By Larry Gordon
We made it through Pesach without going bowling or to the batting cages, miniature golf, the Disney parks, or SeaWorld in Orlando.
Actually, the time off from school over yom tov for many children was not necessarily all that unique as it has been a year of long stretches of time—some longer than the Pesach vacation—when there were no classes in our yeshivas.
The good news is that most of the young men and women who took a chance and returned to the States prior to the chag at the risk of not being allowed back into Israel will be allowed back to continue their studies in the yeshivas and seminaries.
A few weeks ago, as the month of Nissan was approaching, Israel was grappling with how to deal with as many as 10,000–15,000 students leaving the country for the holiday and then wanting to return while the country continues to battle the pandemic. It looks like the efficacy of the vaccine in Israel has now allowed for a more flexible stance on travel. Of course, Israel is a smaller—and some might even suggest more manageable—country by virtue of her numbers, but that, like much else, is debatable.
Just prior to Pesach, the daf yomi aficionados completed the study of the tractate Pesachim which is all about the observance of the details of Pesach. So that was both timely and helpful and may have even enhanced the yom tov this year.
Following Pesachim we seamlessly shifted to Shekalim, which, preliminarily, maneuvers the discussion over to matters of economics and the management of the funds collected from the people and used in the Beit HaMikdash. A discussion about money is always pertinent and helpful, and that is especially true today, as we watch the U.S. government introduce the concept of spending wildly without any consideration of how these trillions of dollars will be repaid to whoever it is being borrowed from.
This year, as those of us who possess some culinary expertise or are adept in the kitchen were preparing for the young children’s voracious appetites for schnitzel and chicken nuggets, we were also treated to the long-awaited third season of Shtisel on Netflix.
We have come to admire and even love the Shtisel family for a variety of reasons. Firstly, even though we may not be exactly like them, many of us still have not just an appreciation for but a personal knowledge and intimate familiarity with that kind of lifestyle.
I cannot share any of the latest storylines of season three with the readers because that would obviously spoil the riveting story for many who are still planning on viewing the series. Let it suffice to say that Shtisel is one of the best stories coming out of Israel with superior performances by all, especially Doval’e Glickman who plays Shulem Shtisel to extraordinary perfection.
As far as the Glickman performance is concerned, the beautiful thing about it is that it’s difficult to believe that it is indeed a performance and not a display of talent from a seasoned chareidi actor along the lines of Shuli Rand, who is also in this season’s Shtisel series.
In interviews, Glickman has stated that he is a secular Israeli who happens to be an actor. His ability to express himself in Hebrew is not a surprise, as he is a native-born Hebrew speaker. What is startling is his natural shift to speaking in Yiddish, a language he said he did not know but learned for his role as Shulem. The other key players in the series are also superb.
The words Shtisel and schnitzel look similar to one another but obviously have nothing in common except that first glance at both words. To add to some of the fascinating alliteration, this week bakers are fulfilling the tradition of baking schlissel challah for this Shabbos. A schlissel is a key, and, believe it or not, it’s baked into our challahs this week. There are many theories and explanations about this custom, but for our purposes let’s just say it is about the “key” to life and future success in whatever one is pursuing and hoping for.
On that note, about a decade ago we were spending a Pesach in Tampa, Florida. Yom tov began on Sunday night so we arrived before Shabbos, stayed at a different hotel, and had our Shabbos meals at the local Chabad House. On Shabbos afternoon, we were walking back to our hotel along a busy roadway when a car slowed down and a young man stuck his head out the window upon observing a small group of Orthodox Jews walking down the street. He yelled one word at us—and it may have been the only word he knew that he could identify with Jews. As his car passed us, he yelled: “Schnitzel!”
I thought about that fleeting experience of at least a decade ago when I imagined that if we were walking back to a hotel on a warm Shabbos afternoon, wearing suits, a similar driver nowadays might be disposed to roll down his window and call out in our direction: “Shtisel!” It does not necessarily mean that such a person was trying vainly to taunt some Jews; perhaps he was trying to express his familiarity with or perhaps totality of knowledge of Judaism.
And it might very well be that at this stage of the game, a person like the one we encountered in Florida ten-plus years ago may have doubled his repertoire or Hebraic linguistic ability to include both “schnitzel” and “Shtisel.”
Our yom tov menu at our children’s home and at our home was more sophisticated than schnitzel, as you might imagine. The menu included several different types of roasts along with delectable side dishes.
It was three long days with six major meals—and that was just the first days of the chag. While we discussed the Haggadah and the dynamics of the events surrounding the ancient Exodus from Egypt, I also heard a great deal of talk later on in the evening that, once upon a time, was not a featured part of the Seder or yom tov meals.
One of the matters we discussed at length on the second night of yom tov was the life and personality of Rebbe Akiva and of Rebbe Elazar ben Horkanus. As you know, they were two of the people who sat up all night in Bnei Brak talking about Yetzias Mitzrayim, along with Rebbe Yehoshua and Rebbe Tarfon.
They were leading rabbinical personalities of their generation, and now, all these years later, we know that they are indeed historic Talmudic luminaries. We talked about Rebbe Akiva’s challenges as a young man who came to achieve great Torah scholarship after age 40; his dedication to his students; the loss of thousands of his talmidim during this sefirah period; and, ultimately, his brutal death at the hands of the Romans when he was already 120 years old.
Rebbe Elazar also achieved great accomplishments in the study and teaching of Torah. He was from a wealthy family that was against his commitment to studying Torah and practically disowned him. According to commentaries on the Haggadah, he achieved noteworthy fame as a Torah scholar but did so in poverty.
Later in the evening, some of the kids had schnitzel, which is basically a chicken cutlet dipped in some kind of breading that enhances the taste and make it look pretty good, too. Over Pesach, of course, we cannot use traditional breading, so it’s substituted with matzah meal if you eat gebrokts, and for those who do not, potato starch or something like almond flour is used.
For the adults there were ribs, steak, flanken, brick roast, and cut roast, which may or may not all be the same thing. The discussion at the table revolved around how the meats were prepared. I heard that one of the roasts was in the oven for 12 hours at 225°F, and that was the secret to its suppleness and smooth taste. Apparently, if the meat is treated with kindness and warmth (I guess about 225 degrees) then it responds accordingly by enhancing the celebration of the chag.
There was talk about new salads and salad dressings and various types of fish and the different things with which you can stuff chicken over yom tov. In days gone by, you had a piece of meat or chicken on your plate with a slice of kugel, and if it was very upscale service some parsnip or other vegetables. Do you know how many different ways you can prepare carrot or potato dishes and how many books have been written on that subject?
Everything was prepared with great care and love; a big part of the family spent different parts of yom tov together, and that is the key—or the schlissel, if you prefer. I have to finish by saying that the schnitzel down at the other end of the table looked very enticing, and after the children ran outside I grabbed a leftover piece that lived up to its excellent potato starch or almond flour image.
And yes, I also ran through all of Shtisel, and that, too, was just as excellent.
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