jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

Category: food

indefinite detention

by tobybee

About thirty minutes drive north from my house, in Broadmeadows, sits MITA, the Melbourne Immigrant Transit Accommodation facility. You hear that name and it’s possible to imagine that the people who are detained inside are merely on their way through, temporarily being held there until they are released in some way. Tragically though, at the moment that’s not the case.

Approximately 50 refugees – people, most of whom are Tamil, who have been through the disastrously long and unwieldy processes that our government hurls at them and have proven their refugee status – being imprisoned there have been given a negative assessment by ASIO. They are “ASIO rejected refugees”. This means, quite simply, that ASIO has said that there is a problem with them – that they are a danger in some way – but they have not explained how, or in what way. As others have pointed out, this can mean that there has been a determination not that a refugee has done anything wrong before, but that they have the potential to do something wrong in the future. Moreover, ASIO assessments are kept secret: the refugees are not told of the allegations against them, nor are their lawyers. nobody. there is no possibility of appeal. The effect of this is to create a situation of indefinite detention: they are refugees, but are not allowed out of prison. Think about that. (it seems to me just one more reason why systems of detention are never ok, why we need to be working so hard to take that right to imprison away from governments)hungerstriker2

And so some of these men – 27 at the moment – sitting in Broadmeadows, have begun a hunger strike. Today is day 6. They are spending their time sitting outside, and have painted banners (one of which you can see here) to try to communicate with the Australian population, and with the Government who holds the key to their futures. On Day one they released this statement to explain what they are doing:


We are 30 people here at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (25 Tamils, 2 Burmese and 2 Iranian) and 56 people all over the Australian detention. We have been here for four years and more. We cannot tolerate it any longer. We need to be released to save our

At 2 a.m. today (Monday, April 8, 2013) we began a hunger strike together. All 30 of us plan to keep doing this until there is solution, one way or the other.

We will gather together in the grounds of the detention centre and stay there until we get a solution. If the Australian Government does not release us, we ask that they kill us mercifully.

We have painted banners as part of our protest. There is one that shows many people hanging. That is what we want to happen to us if we are not released. for life here.

People in here are jumping off rooves, they are going on hunger strikes, they are taking tablets, they are trying to hang themselves……It is a cruel and inhumane environment for everyone.

We plead with you, the Australian people, to help us. We are on the edge of life and don’t know how much longer we can stand it.

We ask Prime Minister Gillard, Immigration Minister O’Connor, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus Opposition leader Abbott and ASIO director David Irvine to stop this torture of all of us……. of
men, women and children, who have done nothing to warrant this cruel treatment that is destroying our minds.

We ask the authorities : You say we are a threat to this nation. So if we are such people why have they now put women and children and families in here with us? We are willing to be released into
the community under strict orders if they think we are threats, which we aren’t. But whatever they want we will do.

But we can’t keep living like this. We are not in detention. We are in a cemetery.

We don’t want to die. We left Sri Lanka, Burmese and Iran because we fear to die. We came to Australia to live, not die. But death would be better than the life we have.


This is happening 30 minutes down the road from my house. That fact hits me over the head; my friends have kept remarking on it in the last couple of days (despite the fact that we try to care about, mourn, and grieve lives that are damaged all around the world, that we fight against injustice in all sorts of places). There is something particularly awful about this happening at the edge of an industrial park, just down the road.

Some people have set up a 24 hour solidarity vigil at MITA, people are going inside to visit the refugees, and others are visiting the vigil briefly. I went yesterday for a couple of hours. It was one of the more distressing moments of a life. We went around the side, and stood with a warehouse, long driveway and fences between us and the men. We waved to each other, clapped so we could all hear each other, and those of us on the outside shouted words of support. And it seemed quite simple: this situation should not exist. And quite horrifying: but it does.

So what can you do? what should you do?
Firstly, you should care. You should care that this is being done by your government, that this is happening just down the road.

Secondly, you should take action. There’s so many levels to what needs to be done. The Minister – Brendan O’Connor – is the man who can make the decision to free them. What power he holds. You can contact him and tell him to release these refugees. Send him an email, call his office, visit his electorate office (which happens to be in Caroline Springs, also not far down the road).

Keep up to date with what is happening by looking at this blog, visiting this facebook event or visiting the RISE facebook page.

You can go join the vigil. It doesn’t matter how long you go for, anytime offers something. I’ve been told that the vigil brings some comfort and support to those on hunger strike. There is no doubt that being able to see each other, and interact in that small way, brings some comfort. By visiting you can also support those who are camping there, and maintaining the vigil.

And, it seems to me, everyone should see what is being done, what is happening. Everyone should understand the processes put in place to determine the lives of people. Everyone should understand the structures of control and discrimination operated by the government. This should not be happening. Neither ASIO nor the government should have this power over life and death. The people must be freed.


for a sweet year

by tobybee

please don’t spill over, dear tomatoes, i prayed. alas, to no avail…

gut yontif, dear readers. i’m finishing up cooking an eggplant and tomato bake for erev rosh hashana dinner tonight. and so, i wish you a nourishing, fulfilling, self-reflective year to come. a year filled with love, laughter, and friendships. with the strength to cope with adversity, and the strength to ask for help. and the strength and care to offer help. the determination to offer forgiveness, to others and to yourself. the desire to right the wrongs that you perpetrate, knowingly and unknowingly. the willingness to see what structures of oppression you fall victim to, and which ones you are complicit in. and to do what you can to not be complicit. the assurance that you will dance as you further the revolution.

my cooking playlist:
the wailing wall
the shondes
leonard cohen

mexican matzo ball soup

by anzya

A friend recently asked if I’d heard of a Jewish Mexican food blog she had come across. I’m now dying to try out this recipe and thought I just had to share my discovery. Also check out this article about the cook, Pati Jinich, from the NYT a couple years back.

golden rosh hashana pumpkin soup

by anzya

With Rosh Hashana approaching I thought I’d share one of my favourite recipes from Claudia Roden’s “The Book of Jewish Food”. Apparently this was traditionally eaten by Jews in Morocco on the first night of the holiday. I’m guessing the delicious aromatic sweetness of the soup has something to do with bringing in a sweet new year.  It is worth splurging on some saffron for this recipe, it really makes the flavour, and besides a little goes a long way!

For my slight variation on the recipe you will need: 250g dried chickpeas, soaked for at least 1 hour before cooking ; 1 large onion, chopped ; 2 1/2 litres chicken/vegie stock ; salt and pepper ; 4 tablespoons sunflower/olive oil ; 1 stick cinnamon ; 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger ; a pinch saffron ; 500g delicious orange pumpkin, cubed ; chopped flat leaf parsley

Put the soaked chickpeas, onion and stock into a pot and bring to the boil. Then simmer for 30mins or until the chickpeas are soft. Add the cinnamon, oil, ginger, saffron and pumpkin, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until pumpkin falls apart. Serve with chopped parsley on top. Enjoy!

a common community

by tobybee

“For me, being Jewish is intimately connected with Melbourne.[… When we came from Hobart] We always stayed with my grandmother (my grandfather, Aaron Patkin, died when I was six: my memories are of a large and somewhat terrifying silver-haired man). Her flat, hard in the centre of the East St Kilda/Caulfield borscht belt, was strangely foreign after the double-fronted brick and weatherboard fences of Hobart: the samovar, the heavy blue curtains between lounge and dining room, the cooking smells of gefilte fish and chopped liver. (Who more than we Jews, define themselves by cuisine?) My mother’s family and family friends would drop in and out while we were there, and I wondered at their ability to swap two or three languages unthinkingly.” (p. 196)

“I find the Jewish community in Melbourne can offer me very little, and I regret that it seems to be offering so little to Australia. A community that is as intensely self-preoccupied and insular as Melbourne Jewry has little in common with that part of the Jewish tradition that stressed its role in the world and its common community with all men.” (p. 202)

From Dennis Altman, “On Being Jewish” 1973, in Coming Out in the Seventies, Sydney: Wild & Woolley, 1979.

A big part of me feels like not much has changed…

Motsoes in the Colonies

by R.S.

I am pretty much in awe of the National Library of Australia digitising their newspaper collection. It is such an amazing resource for researchers who understand the drudgery spending days/weeks/months sifting through microfilm or boundup old papers for the possibility an article that may not even exist.

So, being Pesach, I thought I’d share a couple of articles I found on family here in Melbourne in the 1860s. Here’s an ad for matzos in January 1861 (The Argus)

MOTSOES, superior to any ever offered in the colony. 8d, per 1b, PA Woolf, 78 Gertrude St.

Just when you thought superior colonial motsoes were exciting, there is this (March 1861, The Argus):

NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC – As some evil-disposed persons are giving out that it is not my intention of baking motsoes this year, I wish the public to be aware of such designing persons, whose sole object is their own private ends, that they may make the public pay their own extortionate demands. This is to give notice that I do intend and am BAKING MOTSOES at the present time, and the price is 8d. per 1b. delivered in Melbourne, and 7 1/2d. to anyone fetching the same.
PA WOLFF, Gertrude street, Collingwood.
N.B. The finest assortment of sweet cakes ever made in the colonies.

By September 1864 the evil-disposed extortionists and probable inferior matsoes-makers must’ve done their bit because Phillip’s name pops up again in the Insolvency Court and the family becomes the only Jews in the village at Bonnie Doon.

It is documents like these and the possibilities for interpretation which make my imagination run a bit wild. I feel like these are really rich documents, certainly some of the richest I have in my tiny collection.

I have never seen “motsoes” written like this before. I assume it is just a very Anglo rendering (they were not Yiddish speaking), but if anyone could shed any particular light on this spelling and what it might mean, I’d be much obliged.

a plague on both your houses!

by tobybee

In Victoria we currently have a locust plague. And while I haven’t personally seen any of the little buggers yet, they have been spotted in my neighbourhood and the inner-city generally. So it turns out locusts are not just kosher, but they are halal too! Shakira Hussein puts a very positive spin on this event of (potentially) biblical-proportions…

The good news about locust plagues…

Locust plagues are not generally considered a good-news story, so the threat of impending locust devastation to Victorian agriculture is being watched with trepidation.

However, the locust onslaught is also opening up some productive conversations between Muslims and Jews. I’m not saying that the plague is going to achieve lasting reconciliation between all the fractious children of Abraham, but it could provide the basis for future discussion.

Or failing that, it could at least provide the catering.

Locusts, as it happens, are the only insect to be regarded as both kosher and halal. Scholarly interpretations vary, with some authorities claiming that this decree only applies to particular varieties of locusts, while others maintain that locusts in general are kosher/halal.

Locust-eating has been under discussion by Muslim and Jews on Facebook – or my little corner of Facebook, at least. The conversation has featured the odd locust-relevant quote from Leviticus, but a lot more talk about how-to.

Sol Sabe has combed Google Hebrew for locust recipes. The recipes he’s posted sound a helluva lot more tempting than those provided in today’s Age. Possibly because Yeman has a richer food culture than does the US Food and Agriculture Organisation – the Age’s anointed authority on locust cuisine.

I’ve enjoyed lunch at Sol’s place (locusts were not on the menu, that day) and seen his extensive collection of recipe books – if Sol’s cooked it, I’ll eat it. Locusts with fennel? Stir-fried locusts with orange sauce? Yes, please!

And locust-eating is a slightly more interesting topic of conversation that “So, you don’t eat pork? Me neither…”

a jewish perspective on eat pray love, hollywood orientalism + the bechdel test

by anzya

I finally saw Eat Pray Love tonight which I admit, I wanted to see, seeing so many women seemed to love the book.  I’m not going to say much about it because this brilliant post from Jewschool a while back sums it up to a tee in three yiddish words that for me, highlight what I love about Yiddish: Fress. Kvetch. Shtup. (I linked to translations there if you’re not schooled in the Yiddish language…) The language in itself almost prevents one from taking oneself too seriously (which the self-indulgent main character could use a dose of in her self-absorbed, post-colonial, new age spiritual quest).

Whether or not you’ve seen the film, do read the Fress. Kvetch. Shtup. post by Raysh Weiss, which takes up a Jewish philosophical and ethical critique of the film which I quite liked.

There’s another good article on the NPR website which discusses Orientalism in contemporary Hollywood movies here.

Oh, and do you think this film passes the Bechdel test?

You know, despite this being a film about a woman and her oh-so-spiritual journey, I’m not sure if it does! The only conversations she seems to have with her superficial friends are about her oh-so-difficult relationships with a string of handsome men, and about how their boyfriends will still want to shtup them even if they have “muffin tops” (yeah right Julia Roberts).

how about apple, honey?

by anzya

Rosh Hashana is fast approaching and I am all for finding ways to celebrate and think about the significance of this holiday beyond the usual tame family dinner and rare shul visit. So, I was happy to read Jewcy‘s suggestion of bringing the new year to the bedroom with green apple flavoured lube. Jewcy indeed!

pastrami ethics

by anzya

A friend asked me the other day if I knew where to buy good pastrami in Melbourne. I had to answer that I wasn’t quite sure I knew what pastrami was, let alone where to buy it. I didn’t know if I’d ever eaten it. In fact, my friend’s innocent question provoked a string of my own questions: Do we even have pastrami in Australia? Do I only know about it from Seinfeld? Is smoked brisket the same as pastrami? Cos I know where my bubba buys her smoked brisket… What’s so Jewish about pastrami anyway?

I still haven’t got all those pastrami questions answered. But I did read this great article in the NY times (thanks for the link, Bec!) which explores a whole lot of fascinating questions about Jewish food and food traditions, the American Jewish  deli and, of course, pastrami.

It’s a well worthy read for those who think about food as much as I do. There are also some fantastic quotes in here from deli owner and Jewish foodies (joodies, perhaps?) . Some which will make you laugh – “I had no idea how much mustard people eat in New York” – and others, make you cringe – “When I go to a deli, it’s because I don’t want to think about local or sustainable or fattening.” And it’s filled with fascinating facts about the history, sustainability and reality of Jewish food, such as in this little excerpt:

By today’s standards, the classic deli’s food is strikingly unhealthful, its vast menu financially unmanageable and its ingredients no longer in tune with the seasonal products of local farmers. Too many shortcuts are taken: sourdough bread instead of rye, prepared blintzes, lax lox.

“Jewish cooks weren’t immune to what happened to food after World War II,” Mr. Sax said. “The powders and jars, convenience food — all of that helped lower the standard.”

In the 1950s, when postwar wealth and a push for assimilation carried many Jews into American suburbs, Jewish food became less distinct: the delis grew bigger and more ornate, and so did the sandwiches. The authentic delis that were left behind in cities often had to adapt; most of them, he said, have now closed.

Mr. Bernamoff, his eyes burning with the fervor of a new deli convert (he is 27 and has never worked in a restaurant before), said that “there is no excuse for a lot of what is served as deli now.”

“When I see tourists going into Katz’s, I feel a kind of rage,” he continued. “This is the food of my people, and places like that are turning it into a joke.”

(Later, in a calmer frame of mind, Mr. Bernamoff allowed that the pastrami at Katz’s is “pretty good.”)

And there is even, thank hashem, a definition of pastrami in there: “a Romanian-Jewish-American hybrid of barbecue, basturma (Turkish dried, spiced meat) and corned beef”.