As a public school child in the 70’s, my Valentine’s Day often ended in tears. I remember digging into my optimistically large brown paper bag in first grade to find only three envelopes, even though my mother had insisted I fill out mass-produced cards for every child in my class.

“No one likes me!” I cried. “Why did I give so many cards?”

“Valentine’s day is ridiculous” my mother snapped, and handed me a foil wrapped chocolate.

As a happily married adult in 2018, I still have little affection for this holiday. (No, Valentine’s day, I don’t “choo-choo-choose you.”) My husband is both wonderful and decidedly not romantic, and as Jewish day school graduates, my kids’ only real connection to the holiday is sweeping up all the sale candy for our mishloach manot baskets.

Which brings me to Purim. I love teaching my daughters to make my great-grandmother’s hamentashen recipe. I love laying out a delicious assembly line across the dining room table to fill gift bags, and I love delivering to friends, neighbors, colleagues and teachers. And, let’s be honest, I love receiving mishloach manot. Believe me – it’s not about the treats – our community is famous for swapping expired items from the discount natural food store in town. It’s about feeling…..loved.

When my girls were very little, before we found our place in the Jewish community, we almost never received any mishloach manot. They were too little to care, so I saved plenty of hamentashen and candy for them, and I understood that our friends, whether Jewish or not, did not celebrate this Purim tradition. We were paying it forward.

Within a few years, we had friends who actually asked for my hamentashen recipe so they could start baking their own, and at least a few would show up at our door with Northampton style mishloach manot. (Think lots of organic lollipops.)


This year, once again, we packed up upcycled bags with hamentaashen, homemade chocolate chip cookies, Werther’s caramel candies, and fair-trade chocolate bars. We began delivering at synagogue Wednesday night and continued through they next day. And, we received….,one. Just as many as we needed, frankly, given the amount of baked goods and candy still in our house. But few enough that my inner first grader emerged.

“No one likes me!” I cried. (Silently, of course.) And, for  a tiny minute, I might just possibly have thought “Why did I give so many baskets?”

That grouchiness simmered for longer than I care to admit. Until my younger daughter turned to me and said, angrily, “We shouldn’t give to people who don’t give to us.”

And then, I had to become a grown-up again.

“You know what?” I said. “I know it’s really fun to get mishloach manot, but there are lots of reasons people might not have made mishloach manot or given them to us.” (“Remember?” I thought to myself. “There are lots of reasons.”)

“For me,” I said, “the fun part is giving. It feels really good.” (“Remember?” I said to myself. “Remember all those smiles?”)

“I hope you’ll grow up to do kind things for people because it’s the right thing to do, not because you expect something in return.” (AHEM, I thought to myself. GROW UP.)

I gestured over to the dining room table. “Want a hamentashen?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. I grabbed a prune-filled, she grabbed a brownie-filled, and we nibbled on my great grandma’s hamentashen. Which happen to be my favorite kind, anyway.

One of the greatest privileges of being a kindergarten teacher in a Jewish day school is having the opportunity to teach children to recite the four questions. Unlike almost anything else I teach them about Jewish ritual, this is “real work.” The candles will get blessed, kiddush will be recited, and birkat hamazon chanted with our without them. But children are needed for the Mah Nisthana. It’s their gig, and they know it.

In our school, children have only a modest introduction to spoken Hebrew in the Gan, and do not learn to read and write the alef-bet until first grade. So, figuring out ways to make the Miah Nisthana meaningful to them in Hebrew has presented me with some interesting challenges.

My goals for the Gan are that they feel confident in their recitation; that they have a general sense of what the individual words mean; that they have some kind of written text to help them remember all four questions.

The first goal is accomplished by practice, practice, practice. We practice several times a day starting shortly after Purim. The second goal is accomplished by explaining the questions in English, and then working with the children to come up with hand motions that correspond to the “big ideas.”  The last goal is the trickiest – the children don’t read Hebrew, and I wouldn’t give them transliteration even if I thought it would be useful. So, last year a created a picture chart, with symbols for the same big ideas. I wrote the symbols in the Hebrew direction to get them prepared for reading from a real haggadah next year.  The week before seder, the children take turns leading and pointing, and a small copy of the chart is included in their Gan haggadah.

An additional goal is for the work of learning the Four questions to be fun. Take a look at a video of my class practicing last week, and let me know how you think I did!

YouTube Preview Image

Chag Sameyach v’chasher. We’ll be welcoming a new dog into our home this Passover – check out the Homeshuling facebook page if you’d like to see him.

I’m not exaggerating.

The bane of my Passover existence has been pareve baking. I cook a lot more meat during the holiday than I do the rest of the year, which means a lot more pareve desserts. Which has, up until now, usually meant margarine made from disgusting ingredients such as cottonseed oil.

Last year, I caught wind of the possibility that extra virgin coconut oil, the darling of crunchy mamas everywhere, was Kosher for Passover. Alas, I didn’t catch wind of this possibility until the day before Passover when it was too late to call the OU hotline.

This year, I planned ahead and called and emailed the OU hotline. And what I learned will change your life. Trust me.

Spectrum unrefined organic coconut oil is kosher for passover when labeled OU. (No special Passover labeling.)

I know you won’t believe me. I don’t know why it’s not in their Passover guide. But friends, I have names. And an email. The person whom I spoke to at the OU hotline was named Rabbi Geiger, and he said I could quote him.

Here is the email I got from the Webbe Rebbe (also of the OU.)

From: Webbe Rebbe <>

To: ‘amy meltzer’ <xxxxxx> 
Sent: Monday, March 19, 2012 12:07 PM
Subject: RE: extra virgin coconut oil?

Thank you for contacting the OU.

 That is correct, Spectrum unrefined coconut oil is kosher for Passover.

 Please do not hesitate to contact us again should you have any further questions.


 The Web(be) Rebbe

Orthodox Union Kashruth Division

From: amy meltzer [xxxxxxx]
Sent: Monday, March 19, 2012 12:39 PM
To: Webbe Rebbe
Subject: Re: extra virgin coconut oil?

Will it be labeled OUP or does it not require the P?

 thanks for your help in this-

I received this reply on Tuesday, March 20

Thank you for contacting the OU.

With a plain OU symbol.

Note: This information is valid for Passover 2012 only.

Please visit or consult our printed “Guide to Passover” for more a proper listing and other details.

Please do not hesitate to contact us again should you have any further questions.

Have a Kosher and happy Pesach.


The Web(be) Rebbe

Orthodox Union Kashruth Division

For those of you who haven’t used Coconut oil, it’s a solid at room temperature and has a mild coconut flavor. While refined coconut oil is on everyone’s list of unhealthy fats, unrefined coconut oil is generally considered  somewhere from benign to a miraculously healthy. (Here’s a fairly balanced NYTimes article on the topic.) I won’t take sides, I just know it’s better than hydrogenated cottonseed oil. I’ll be making Levana’s Passover Brownies this year with coconut oil. Yum.

I’m not a haggadah junkie. I know many Jews whose shelves are overflowing with numerous versions of the Haggadah – from the traditional Maxwell House to the not-so-traditional Santa Cruz – and whose seders are an amalgam of commentaries, poems, and (alas) responsive readings, from these dog-eared, post- it covered books. Maybe it’s because my family’s seder is geared towards young children; maybe it’s because I prefer discussion to recitation; or maybe because I think there’s more than enough meaningful text to fill a seder without any extra thrown in; but I’ve always been of the opinion that when it comes to haggadot, less is more.

Nevertheless, when I was offered a copy of the New American Haggadah to review, I was elated. I’d just heard Nathan Englander, the brilliant writer who translated the Haggadah, on Fresh Air days before I received the book.  On the show, he talked to Terry Gross about his own background as a no-longer-Orthodox Jew with a strong yeshiva education. He described the seriousness with which he approached the project, spending years with his hevruta, pouring over every word choice to try to capture the “rhythm, clarity, communication, meaning..(and).. intent” of the original text. Listening to the few examples quoted in the interview, from his daring translation of Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam to his midrashic turn on the plague of choshech, I couldn’t wait to see the rest. (Did I pique your curiousity? Check out the interview. Or better yet, the haggadah itself.)

The Haggadah is simply magnificent. The translation turns the English “side” of the service, which has always felt clunky and awkward to me (“Wherefore is this night distinguished from all other nights?”) into poetry. It’s a translation finally worthy of sharing the page with the Hebrew. Which is so, so important for those of us who can’t engage meaningfully with the text in the original.

I could blather on about why I love Englander’s translation. (In fact, I did just that when I got to go out for drinks with him after his reading at a local bookshop.) But I’m going to trust that a glimpse of one of my favorite pages will give you a far better sense of the haggadah than all my blathering. I’ll also share a little bit of what I learned about these pages from interviewing Englander and the editor, Jonathan Safran Foer. (I know what you are thinking. Right?) Then, I’ll tell you about the giveaway I scored for you, my beloved readers.

These two pages appear side by side, just after candle lighting, to introduce the steps of the seder:


I asked Nathan about this translation. He spoke about the tension between translating literally and capturing the artistic essence of the original. “”This is a poem in Hebrew, so I wanted it to read like a poem in English.”  But, he explained, the words he chose also had to help illustrate the ceremony of the seder. “They are words, with specific meaning, but they are also touchstones – they represent actions and ideas. If you only knew the meaning of the words, that wouldn’t be enough to understand. You’d still have to ask.”

You can see a section of the timeline which runs along  the top margin of the entire Haggadah. According to Safran Foer, “there’s been some confusion about the timeline. It’s not a timeline of Jewish history, but a timeline of the Exodus story and how it’s presented in Jewish history and world history. It’s arguably one of the best known stories. To me, the timeline inspires a kind of awe, which I think is an appropriate reaction to the Haggadah.”

On the opposite page, the illustration is actually the word Kadesh written in Hebrew handwriting dating back to 1200 BCE. Safran-Foer explained that the graphic artist, Oded Ezer, used the timeline to inspire his art. “On each page he would look at… what the timeline was referring to and researched Hebrew typography for that period. He used that as the basis for the design.”

What you can’t see on this page are the four commentaries that also run throughout the book, written by Jeffery Goldberg, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Nathaniel Deutsch, and Lemony Snicket. (Yes, that Lemony Snicket. “For the kids,” explained Safran Foer. “He knows that age group better than anyone.”) While they offer some interesting insights, I admittedly wouldn’t recommend this Haggadah for the sake of the commentary. It’s the text itself that makes this a transformative work. Which I think is more or less how it should be.

I doubt I’ll be using this Haggadah at the seder I have with my 6 and 8 year old daughters, who will not swoon when they come to the translation of Tam as “The Artless One.” (And wait until you see what he does with the words Barukh Hamakom.) But it’s been by my bedside since I received it, and reading through a few pages a night has been part of my own spiritual preparation for Passover. (Which in past years has consisted mostly of…..vacuuming.)

Would you like a copy of your very own? (You don’t even have to answer.) Little, Brown and Company has graciously offered THREE copies to homeshuling readers. (Between the interviews and the giveaway I’m beginning to think they have confused me with some other blogger.) All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below (scroll way down!) However, the winners will not be selected (at random, of course) until I have at least 100 comments. The deadline to enter is Tuesday, March 20 – noon, Massachusetts time. So, please, share a link, spread the news. Otherwise, I may never get to have a martini with a famous author again.