Hurry Up and Wait

They say you spend one-third of your life sleeping, but some days we feel like we spend the other two-thirds of our lives waiting – at the airport, in a doctor’s office, and at a restaurant lurking over the hostess stand. Why isn’t it our turn yet?

“Group 6 can now board the plane.”

It’s a given that we’ll have to wait at the airport. In fact, for an international flight they want us to show up three hours before departure, and you know that we follow the rules. But how many packs of $4 gum can we buy? How many bathroom trips can we make? By the time the plane actually takes off, our phones are at 12% because we’ve been waiting around for hours with nothing to do but play around on our phones.

We’d love to be young and carefree and get to the airport with 20 minutes to spare, but we know we’ll get really anxious if we don’t have at least an hour in the plastic seats.

“Please take a seat until we call you.”

At the doctor’s office, we have a specified appointment time. In fact, they called to remind us of our appointment time. So imagine our disappointment as we sit and wait and realize that the appointment time turns out to have just been a suggestion, like when the Comcast repair guy promises to show up between 7 and 10 a.m.

When we sign in, we glance at the names on the list. Do I know any of these people? What is their medical condition? Are HIPAA laws just a suggestion, too?

We pick up a People magazine and settle in to wait, but after about 15 minutes we start to get antsy. We find ourselves being extra vigilant about who else is waiting for the doctor. Did that woman in the red sweater arrive after me? What time could her appointment be if mine is 11:15?  Finally the nurse beckons us to come on back, which just means it’s time to get weighed and sit naked in a paper gown, waiting some more. Now we don’t even have a magazine.

We do tend to forgive our OBGYN. When they’re running late, it’s because they’re busy delivering a baby. We understand that babies butt in line. They don’t know that they have to sign in, and they have no Google calendar.

“Uh, looks like you need new brake pads.”

Sometimes, we actually look forward to waiting – like when we bring our car in for service. We imagine that we’ll have an hour of peace and quiet. We’ll read a magazine. Have a cup of coffee and relax.

It doesn’t turn out that way. In the car repair waiting room, the TV is turned to Fox News at volume 52. The coffee looks tempting, but the pot and paper cups are covered in a layer of dust. We do appreciate the complimentary bag of Fritos and the granola bar.

It’s hard to find a seat, but we don’t want sit anyway. The upholstered chairs haven’t been updated since 1973 and the arms are black with grime. Perhaps if we drove a luxury car the service center waiting room would be more luxurious.

“How many in your party?”

Sometimes we go old school and just walk into a restaurant without a reservation. When they say the wait will be about 15 minutes, we suffer in silence. If the wait is much more, we weigh our options.

Is the hostess underestimating the wait time so we don’t leave and go elsewhere? Is she overestimating because she’s hoping we’ll walk out and not nudge her? How could there be such a long wait at our local taco place? It’s not even that good. But if we leave now we’ll have to put our name at the bottom of the list at another restaurant – after driving 10 minutes to get there. More waiting.

We decide to wait but make a strategy. Every 10 minutes one of us will ask the hostess, “How’s it going? Who are you up to now? How much longer do you think it will be?” But we have to be careful. If we ask too many questions, she’ll slide our name to the bottom of the list and give our table to the family of 8 that’s waiting quietly.

We like it better when they hand us a vibrating coaster that will ring when our table is ready. This innovation comforts us. It lets us know we still have our place in line. They haven’t forgotten us. Entrusted with the coaster, we have something to do while we wait: We watch it to make sure we don’t miss the vibration and the flashing red lights.

“Five more minutes and then I’ll comb the color through.”

At the hair salon, we wait for 30 to 40 minutes with brown goo on our hair, smelling like a chemical experiment, looking like a clown, and waiting for color R564 “ageless honey brown” to take effect. The woman in the chair next to us opted for highlights; she looks like an alien with her head wrapped in foil. We don’t mind waiting here because we know it will be worth it. Our hair will look fabulous when we’re done.

We kvetch about waiting because we’ve been there, done that – er, waited for that –  before. We’re experienced. We’ve learned that sometimes it’s worth the wait and sometimes it’s not.

We say:

Waiting in line at the new small-plates restaurant until the hipster hostess decides to acknowledge us. Not worth it.

Waiting to get off the plane, seat 26C! Going through the customs line, showing our passport, nothing to declare, finding our suitcase and waiting for the shuttle bus to take the 40-minute ride to the white sand beach with palm trees. Worth it.

Fighting the traffic on the day before Thanksgiving, waiting in the pickup line at the airport when our kids fly home. Totally worth it.

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Mandelbread and Kamishbread: Biscotti’s Jewish Cousins

When we walk into a coffee shop and see a glass jar filled with “biscotti,” we think it looks a lot like mandelbread. Why does the sign say biscotti – and why are they $3.75 each?

We’ve written volumes about the difference between rugelach and shnecken. We’ve polled our audiences. We consulted baking mavens like Joan Nathan and Marcy Goldman, but mandelbread? We never researched mandelbread, kamishbread and their Italian cousin biscotti. We just love eating all of them. But Joyce’s recent baking success got us thinking….

All three are dry, crunchy, oblong, twice-baked cookies. The word biscotti comes from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning “twice-cooked.” The Italians tell it like it is. In ancient Rome, biscotti were part of the rations for the Roman legions, who munched on them on their way to war.

Who knew he had a biscotti in his pocket?

Jews were never in the Roman legions. In Eastern Europe, Jews were merchants, rabbis and peddlers who wanted something sweet that could travel with them during the week. According to Joan Nathan, kamishbread and mandelbread were favorites because after all, it’s hard to pack a bagel and lox in your bag and not have it smell after a week. Nathan says that mandelbread migrated to America after World War I.

These days, mandelbread and kamishbread are happy to stay home, waiting in a baggie for the kids or until we have the urge for a cookie. Other desserts aren’t as patient. Jewish apple cake will likely be dry and have a spot of green mold on it by the time the kids show up.

“Mandel” is the Yiddish word for almond, so it’s no surprise that original recipes called for adding almonds on the loaf or in it. But what does “kamish” mean? We asked a few Yiddish-speaking Bubbes, but they couldn’t translate the word for us. They all knew that “brodt” is the Yiddish word for bread, so if you want to go old-school all Yiddish you say “mandelbrodt” and “kamishbrodt.”

chocolate chunk, nicely browned

We think that in its original form, kamishbread is nondescript, but delicious. It has no extras – no chocolate chips, no fruits, no nuts mixed in. It’s not showy; the most it boasts is a dusting of cinnamon sugar. It’s mandelbread’s plainer sibling, and we like to imagine our grandparents dunking their kamishbread in a glass of hot tea. It’s ideal for that. When we ask for kamishbread, we’re expecting a plain vanilla cookie. Nothing fancy.

On the other hand, mandelbrodt can be fancy. It comes in infinite variations: with chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dates, raisins, or even chopped Heath bar pieces added. Some recipes dress up good old kamishbread, too. But if  you add chocolate chips to kamishbread, how do you know it’s not mandelbread? Even Google confuses the two. When we typed in “kamishbread,” the search came up with recipes for chocolate chip mandelbread!

Traditional mandelbread and kamishbread recipes call for oil, which means the cookies are pareve. Other recipe variations suggest using butter, which makes them dairy and taste a little more like a biscotti.

Ellen has been baking mandelbread for years. She tweaked a biscotti recipe that calls for butter, but she often uses Crisco sticks or a combination of butter and oil. She throws in chocolate chips and craisins, which she always keeps on hand. Her kids aren’t Jewish peddlers, but they do like getting a good package in the mail, and mandelbread is ideal for filling a cardboard box and shipping it across the country! They will be just as delicious when they arrive 3-5 days later.

Joyce made kamishbread for the first time last week for her husband’s birthday. Ted had recently reminisced about his Bubbe’s recipe, and Joyce took the hint. Luckily a cousin had custody of the old recipe and had transposed the “bissels” (“just a little bit”) into teaspoons and cups and her mandelbread turned out great.

We’ve shared our recipes below:

Joyce’s Recipe*
*She started with Bubbe Singer’s Kamishbrodt recipe, which had been a little revised over the years by Cousin Sharon. Joyce then made some changes, too!

¾ cup  butter (oil works as well)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon orange juice

If desired, add in mini chocolate chips, chocolate jimmies or 1 cup of chopped walnuts. Cream oil and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Mix rest of ingredients in one at a time

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into two loaves, each about 4 inches wide and an inch or so high. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Slice while warm into individual pieces.

Places pieces on their side and bake for 5-7 minutes. Turn over and bake for 5-7 minutes more until nicely browned. Makes about 24 biscotti, which were devoured by 2 people (guess who!) in less than one week.

Cousin Sharon’s recipe for mandelbread

Ellen’s Mandelbread
This is a variation of this recipe for Wendy’s Biscotti from Ellen usually doubles this recipe, to yield 2-3 logs of dough.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest – if you have a fresh orange, great! If not, move on!
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Extras – use some or all of these
6 ounces chocolate chips
1 cup craisins
1 cup chopped, roasted almonds
1 cup natural shelled pistachios

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Will there be a basket of souvenir fascinators at the royal wedding?

When we came home from a wedding, we added another kippah to our collection. As we stuffed the pale blue satin one into the drawer, it made us think: They won’t be wearing kippot at the royal wedding? So will there be a basket of fascinators at the door to St. George’s Chapel for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding?

There’s a sea of differences between a Jewish wedding and and a royal one, not the least of which is how the guests cover their heads. While our cousin Margie would wear a wire kippah with purple beads to Temple Beth El.

a woman’s wire kippah

​Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, would wear a designer fascinator with a purple ostrich plume to Windsor Castle.

the many fascinators of Princess Kate

Both kippot and fascinators are held on with a clip, but that’s about all they have in common. Here are all the differences:

The History

The fascinator dates to the early 1500s, when English women wore veils and hats in keeping with the latest fashions. Wealthy women bought headpieces adorned with pearls, real jewels and feathers – and these fancy ones became status symbols.

Although the Tanakh includes some references to head covering, the custom of wearing a kippah didn’t become common practice until the 1500s. Whether Jewish men wear a discreet round skullcap or a shtreimel, the fancy fur hats popular among married Hasidic men, it’s meant as a sign of devotion and religious observance – not as a fashion statement. Women began wearing kippot in synagogue around the time they gained equal rights to reading from the Torah, participating in services and other religious observances.

The Purveyors

If you’re not a duchess, countess or princess but are lucky enough to be invited to the royal wedding, you need to get a touch with a milliner to make you a modest veil or pillbox hat. If you think you might land and in Vogue, you’ll probably contact Irish-born milliner Philip Treacy, hat maker to the royals and all their friends. He’ll ask you to send him a fabric sample of your dress. He’ll post you back some sketches, and then you’ll send your butler to his showroom to pick up your one-of-a-kind fascinator. Remember Princess Beatrice’s over-the-top fascinator? Treacy made that – and 35 other amazing hats that were worn to William and Kate’s wedding.

Vanity Fair magazine called this one “the fascinator that will go down in infamy”

To buy kippot for a wedding, you go online to see your choices. You ask your daughter, “Are you sure you want ivory satin? Then you click “add 10 dozen to cart.” A month before the event you find yourself on the phone yelling at Moishe in the Bronx. “Where’s my order? It was supposed to be here two weeks ago.” He informs you that the factory was closed for the holiday but “they’ll be there in plenty of time.” While Moishe is not a famous milliner, he can trace his lineage to a long line of shmatte traders. 

The Materials

Too small to be a hat and (usually) too crazy to be cool, with a fascinator, the sky’s the limit – literally. It can incorporate ribbons and ostrich plumes, silk roses and plastic strawberries, or butterflies and birds to complement your outfit and add inches to your height.

A kippah comes in satin or leather, suede or velvet, crocheted or beaded. You can choose basic black or a rainbow of colors and get it trimmed in silver braid or embossed with palm trees or zebras. Your kippah can trumpet your sports team loyalty or political affiliation.


Like a fascinator, a kippah can announce your personal style to the world – albeit in a smaller, flatter kind of way. You can stash an extra kippah into your tallit bag or purse, but you can’t do that with your fascinator.

The Cost

Harrods, the venerable London department store, carries Philip Treacy’s fascinators. For $1,700 you can make a statement (that you’re elegant and fashion-forward) in his black Ribbon Disc Headpiece. The Floral Veil Headpiece with hints of fuschia goes for $5,500. That royal sum would get you 229 dozen fuschia satin kippot, shipping included.

Like fascinators, kippot can be custom-made originals. But if you order a suede one for your wedding that’s embossed with the bride and groom’s names, wedding date and flowers that match the wedding colors, expect it to cost 10 times as much as a plain kippah. It will set you back about $20.

We amassed our kippah collection over a lifetime of celebrating b’nai mitzvot, simchas and weddings. Our drawer is filled to the brim with happy memories along with the headgear.


When we pick out a kippah on Friday night and read the name of a friend’s daughter, we remember how beautiful her wedding was. The one with our son’s Bar Mitzvah date stamped inside brings back memories of his middle-school friends, how he read Torah and how wonderful it was that Grandmom was able to be there that day.


When everyone leaves the royal wedding, they’ll go home to their castles and they’ll have their memories, too. We hope that will include a fascinator that says, stamped on the inside, “Wedding of Harry and Meghan, Windsor Castle, 19 May 2018.”


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You Give Us a Bad Name

A few weeks ago, a friend sent us a link to an article about a porn site. She was upset to see the name of our writers group – Playpen – in the news and not in a good way.

“We need to change the name of our group,” she exclaimed.

The article was referring to a child pornography website named Playpen that the FBI had shut down. The porn site made headlines because one of its users was fighting back – charging that the evidence against him was gathered illegally. But we think it’s tough to prove you’re innocent when your online name is “thepervert.” (True fact. Thepervert is theplantiff)

There’s no perverts in our group. We’re a bunch of moms who write. We started when our kids were little, gathering around the kitchen table to exchange writing and editing advice while our kids played together in a playpen. And writers use a “pen,” get it? That’s how we got our name.

We have 15 members. The porn site had 215,000. We can’t host that many people for breakfast.

We asked a legal expert what to do.

Who used the name first? Well, we did. We’ve been meeting for 25 years – almost before computers and computer porn were invented. They launched their site in 2014. Their illegal activities are high up on the heinous scale. We get nervous when we realize we accidentally took the pen from the bank.

Who registered the name first? We didn’t bother. We didn’t think we had to trademark eight women eating muffins and discussing the merits of the Oxford comma. The other Playpen never registered their name either – because they didn’t want the FBI to find them.

We’re writers and editors, so we think the fact that we spell our name with two capital Ps – PlayPen – is enough to separate us from the illegal, immoral, lowercase version of our name. We’re not expecting G men to subpoena our notes from our interview with the local baker. All they’d learn is the secret ingredients in her apple cake.

Names carry great weight. We remember when we were trying to think of names for our children. Every possible name made us recall a person with that name. Stuart? No way. He was the big bully in our fifth grade class. Not Marcia. She was the grumpy next-door neighbor who turns off her porch light on Halloween.

And now that we know there is a disreputable “Playpen,” we can’t help thinking about it. No one will confuse us with them, but we’re still annoyed. We can’t help thinking they owe us a handwritten apology note. We’re expecting one – right after they make bail.Organizations change their names for lots of reasons. To make the corporate name more contemporary. For wider appeal. When they’ve been bought by another entity.  When the old name has a bad connotation.

The old-fashioned playpen – the kind we used to put our kids in to keep them out of trouble when we wanted to cook dinner – is a good example of the latter.

The word playpen connotates a pen, a cage, a contraption to corral your pet. Nowadays the structure for your precious tot is called a play-yard, which conveys green grass and a free-range child who can explore, learn and grow while you take a shower.

We’re not the only organization whose name has lost its appeal. Before Google was Google, its founders named it BackRub in reference to their new computer algorithm that analyzed “back links” to get you your information. They were geniuses, but they missed the creepy connotation. Early on in their fame, they changed their name to better reflect their mission.

We don’t have to send a cease and desist letter from our big important lawyer. The porn website is out of business. Thank you, FBI. We don’t even have to change our name.

We like PlayPen. Even though our kids are grown and we long ago donated our playpens, we’re used to the name. But the recent news got us thinking, perhaps it is time to change our group’s name to one that better describes our purpose.

“Pay Us More Than $100 for This Article” will meet next Thursday.

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We’re Expecting: A New Book About Bubbies

Happy post-Passover to all our family, friends and fans. We enjoyed our seders this year, although it was sort of an “off- year” for both of us. We were glad to see and feed (some) of our children. Grateful to eat matzah for the first few days – and then happy to donate the leftover matzah, farfel and matzah cake meal.

we always buy too much!

Now that Passover is over, you’d think that we would be getting back to our same-old, same-old. We are, sort of. We’re happy to report that we do have a bunch of speaking dates coming up. Check out our calendar of upcoming dates  to see if we’re coming to your neighborhood. We’d love for you to join us and hear our presentation. It will bring back lots of great memories about growing up Jewish, your favorite foods and holiday hijinks.

But on to our big news: A few weeks ago, an editor at Quirk Books sent us an email. We had met the editor a few years ago at the Philadelphia Writers Conference when we pitched her the idea of a book of dating and relationship advice from your Bubbe. She liked that idea but it wasn’t in their budget, but somehow we got stuck in her brain as two writers who know the inside scoop on being a grandmother.

When she contacted us recently, she had a proposal: Would we be interested in writing a book for them, titled Stuff Every Grandmother Should Know? It would be part of their series of gift books around the theme of “stuff you should know,” as in Stuff Every Mother Should Know. Other books in their series offer advice to college students, gardeners, brides and grooms and vegetarians. They’re handy, pocket-sized guides to life and hobbies that make fun and funny little gifts.

The editor told us we have exactly the kind of fun-yet-knowledgeable voice she was looking for. First, we were flattered. Then we moaned,” Neither of us is a grandmother – yet!” But we were intrigued, and we do love a good Bubbe story. So we said yes.

a busy Bubbe by our favorite cartoonist Terry LaBan

The “stuff books” are packed with facts, organized in bullets of information, and an easy, fun read. You can find them in the racks near the checkout counter at Barnes & Noble and in lots of other “gifty” locations. So now we’re busy organizing our thoughts on things like “out-of-town grandmothers,” “how to spoil the grandkids,” and “how to make a safe play space at your place.”  We’ve taken to stopping women on the street and asking them about their grandchildren!

It’s shaping up to be a fun project and we’ll keep you in the loop. In fact, if you’d want to share a nugget of wisdom about being a Bubbe – your favorite activities to do with grandchildren or stories about your role as a grandmother in relation to the parents of your beloved babies, you can send us an email at or you can write it as a comment below.



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Unpacking Passover Memories

The torch has been passed. We are the hosts of our family’s holiday celebrations and the keeper of the family heirlooms.

At Rosh Hashanah, we dip apples in honey. At Hanukkah, we fry latkes and light the menorah. But at Passover, when our family and friends gather around our seder table, we will enjoy not just a dinner together, but a meal filled with symbolic foods, ritual objects and the stories and blessings that go with them. We look forward to being able to use a whole host of family treasures that we only see once a year – on Passover. 

That’s because Passover is the only Jewish holiday that requires a ceremonial dinner – the seder. In fact, more than 70 percent of American Jews participate in a seder.

When we put the horseradish on the seder plate that was a gift from cousin Joan, we wish she could have joined us this year. When we drink our first cup of wine from Grandpop Myer’s kiddush cup, we’ll remember him calling on the grandchildren to sing the four questions. When we recite the 10 plagues, we’ll wave the green cardboard frog that Ben made in preschool 25 years ago.

Ben Eisenberg’s preschool plague frog

At Passover, Joyce brings out the gigantic aluminum soup pot that belonged to Nan, her step-grandmother. No other pot holds so much matzah ball soup; no other pot holds such dear memories. As a child, when she visited Nan, Joyce had to stand on a stool to peak into the soup pot. It was filled with clear, fragrant chicken broth – no celery or carrots in sight. Nan let the grandkids decide whether bow ties, alphabets or thin egg noodles would be added to the both. When Joyce grew up and asked for the recipe, Nan told her,  “shitteryne.” It sounded like a curse word, but it was Yiddish for “just throw it in.”

When Ellen opens the box marked “Passover,” the first thing she’ll take out is the wooden bowl that her father-in-law used to chop the apples for his traditional Ashkenazic haroset. When he died, Ellen’s mother-in-law gave the bowl to Ellen’s daughter, Jessie, because making haroset is always her favorite job. Poppy’s bowl will sit on the table, awaiting Jessie’s arrival from Boston for the holiday. In recent years, Ellen has also made Sephardic haroset with the flavors of the Mediterranean: apricots, dates, cinnamon and cardamom. Though Poppy might have called this “newfangled,” we like to imagine he would have gladly tried it.

Rabbi Sam Scolnic’s wooden bowl for chopping haroset

Each year at Passover, Joyce goes into the attic cedar closet to pull out the ivory linen tablecloth that her mother, Bernice, hand embroidered with cross-stitched blue flowers when she was a young bride.

Bernice Kirschner’s cross-stitched tablecloth

Then she puts it back. The tablecloth was meant to grace a holiday dinner table set for 12, but Bernice never used it. She died at age 34 from breast cancer. Joyce hasn’t used it either. She has so few of her mother’s possessions and can’t bear to see it stained with wine. Instead she uses a plain tablecloth.

Grandmom Pearl’s gold-rimmed Rose Dawn china, a Japanese pattern popular in the 1950s, does make it on to Joyce’s seder table, even though it will have to be hand-washed afterwards. The dishes bring to mind Passover seders at Grandmom Pearl and Grandpop Henry’s house, where Joyce remembers running around with her cousins, pretending the grape juice was really wine.

Our haggadot are a hodgepodge of the parts of the seder we like best. We started with the preschool haggadah – we love the song about frogs here and frogs there – and added readings, songs and pictures we liked. We cut out the parts we didn’t like, such as the commentary about the four sons. How dare they call one son stupid? And where are the  daughters?

In recent years, when our young adult children invited guests to the seder, they wanted a more modern, inclusive haggadah. There are more than 1,600 haggadot in print, and we could have bought a hip-hop haggadah with tunes written by a Yiddish-rapping klezmer artist or an ecological haggadah that lists air pollution among the plagues. But instead we had our children help us find passages to read about welcoming immigrants and the poem about Miriam dancing. We like our home-made haggadot, filled with familiar songs and sweet memories.

At Passover Ellen puts out all of her kiddush cups. The tiny one was a baby gift for her oldest son; yeled tov (good boy) is engraved on the front. The purple glass goblet safely made it home with her from the Venice ghetto many years ago. The silver one adorned with the big Jewish star, inherited from her grandparents, is stamped “made in Mexico.” Ellen will never know if her grandmother bought it in a synagogue gift shop or on a romantic getaway to Acapulco.

Scolnic family’s kiddush cups

But our most precious Judaica isn’t made of sterling silver or fine crystal. It is the items that our children made when they were younger. We place the afikoman in a purple felt envelope glopped with gold glitter glue. We recline on pillows that have the order of the seder drawn on them in a fourth-grader’s hand.

Michael Scolnic’s Pesach pillowcase


Pyramids and frogs, hand-washing and matzah are all laboriously illustrated. Some 20 years later, these childhood creations make us smile. Our adult children will deny that their handprint was ever that tiny or that their matzah cover is a “work of art,” but we know they love seeing their items on the table.

 We’ve heard about the luxurious kosher Passover getaways that offer full pesachdik meals in a beachfront location. According to the ads, we could keep Passover and relax for eight days without cleaning our kitchen and serving a holiday meal for 20.

These vacations sound tempting – for a minute – but there would be none of the fun either. No one would be able to toss the sofa cushions to hunt for the afikoman. We wouldn’t be able to ask Aunt Ruth to bring her famous Passover brownies. We wouldn’t be able to pack up containers of leftovers to send home with our guests.

We’re not going to stop hosting the seder. We’re happy to do the work because it means the family will gather, the kids will come home, and traditions will live on.

Someday we’ll pass the hosting torch to our children. Even though they’ve told us they don’t want our fine china, they’ve put dibs on the purple kiddush cup and the wooden candlesticks we bought in Haifa. We look forward to sitting around their seder table and lighting the candles with them.

Our favorite photo shopped art- Moses Receiving the Macaroons by Rembrandt


The Word Mavens wish our families, friends, readers and fans a happy, healthy and delicious Passover !

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Have a Question? We Know People Who Know People

Now and then we receive e-mails from people who have questions for us:

How do you fold a hamantashen into a triangle?FullSizeRender-1

What’s your favorite flavor of babka? What’s the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel? These are questions we can answer!

Some questions require a little bit of research: Is cockamamie a real word? What’s the Yiddish curse that my Bubbe use to yell? I think it had the word “pupik” in it.

When Joyce’s mother-in-law, Mitzi, was alive, she was our go-to expert for crazy Yiddish. Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish is still our go-to book. Sometimes we ask Yiddish-speaking audience members to share their knowledge or help us out.

Most of our emails are from fellow Americans; occasionally, when we write for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the article is picked up by the Times of Israel, we hear from Israelis.

But last week we received an inquiry from a man in the United Arab Emirates. He wrote:

Good day.
I would like to offer you some pictures if you can provide me with some information.
The manuscript in the picture is dated from the Ottoman era and is written in ancient Hebrew. I am looking for someone who translates the language and extracts a certificate from it. And if possible, publish it in one of your editorial and be part of your collection.

Thank you very much, respect, appreciation and fruitful work of mankind.

Best Regards,
Saad Almuhairi

Well, Mr. Almuhairi. Thank you for your respect and admiration. And for your photos. Cool scroll. Could this be an ancient Purim megillah? If so, who’s the guy in the Turkish hat?

How on earth did you find the Word Mavens? Did you google “two Jewish ladies in Philadelphia who like cream cheese on their bagels and have an ottoman in front of their chair”?

We’ve both been to Turkey – and we can tell you about haggling for baklava and kilim bags in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but we don’t know much about ancient Ottoman manuscripts.img-4389-1.jpg

However, we do know people who know people. If we were on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? we could easily “phone a friend.”

So we called Ellen’s husband, David, over from the sofa.

David speaks, reads and writes Hebrew. He knows how to read the Torah, and that counts as an ancient manuscript – right?

David thought that although the Turkish manuscript had Hebrew characters, there were only a few Hebrew words. He couldn’t read the content or get any meaning from it.

David sent the email on to his brother, Ben Scolnic, a congregational rabbi in Hamden, Conn., who has taught at Yale University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Rabbi Scolnic agreed that the words were not Hebrew words – even though they were written with Hebrew letters. He asked David if he knew any Turkish because he thought it might be one of the languages – like Yiddish – that combines Hebrew with the native tongue of the local inhabitants.

So we crafted our reply:

Dear Mr. Almuhairi,

 Thank you for your interesting email. We asked two friends – a rabbi and a man who speaks and reads Hebrew – and both of them came to the same conclusion. The writing is Hebrew characters but the words are not Hebrew words. There are one or two Hebrew words mixed in, but only a few. 

They think the language was written with Hebrew characters but is essentially the native language. This was common around the world. The two best known of these languages are Yiddish (a mixture of Hebrew and German) and Ladino (a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish). They think this one might be Turkish because you said Ottoman. So it is Turkish words, written in Hebrew characters – but our friends don’t speak Turkish – so it’s only a guess!

The rabbi thought it might be a story, a tale, because of the scroll and the illustration.

 Good luck! Sorry we can’t be of more help.

 Ellen and Joyce 

Since then, we discovered that there were close to 200,000 Jews living in the Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries. Almost all of them spoke Ladino, according to Rachel Bortnick, a Ladino activist and writer originally from Turkey. So the jury is still out as to whether or not there could have been another language for Turkish-speaking Jews.

So, dear readers, if you have a question, feel free to contact us. We’ll either know right away that the answer is mun or we’ll look it up in our handy dandy Dictionary of Jewish Words. We can always phone a friend.

We’d love to shmooze with you.



Posted in ancient manuscript, Dictionary of Jewish Words, Ottoman, Purim, Sephardi, The Word Mavens, Uncategorized, Yiddish | 1 Comment