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Blog - It's all Greek to me!!!!

Life in Greece with a Jewish twist

Lost in Azerbaijan

(So here is the Azerbaijan story I promised you – see previous post)

Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, was one of the communities we considered moving to.  Mendel spent close to 2 years in Russia, he learnt the language, was appreciated there and that’s why we received several propositions in Russia or former Soviet Union.

One of them was Baku, so we decided to check it out. 3 weeks after the birth of Hanna (our oldest), we set off to Moscow, and from there in a scary Propeller plane, to Azerbaijan. When we landed, they announced in English an outside temperature of 28 degrees. When we got out of the airport, the heat was scorching and I wondered how come it’s so hot with only 28 degrees… Turns out it was close to 40 degrees, but the airplane had a set recording!

Azerbaijan has a community of 15 thousand people, all the rest left to Israel or other countries. Most of them live in Baku but there is an interesting community of 3000 in Kobe: they live a shtetl like village, all the Jews together. During WW2, when the Germans invaded Azerbaijan, they came very close to this village, then miraculously turned around, and that’s how the community was saved.

Many of them are textile merchants who have a stand in Izmailovskaya, the textile market in Moscow. They commute, spending the week in Moscow and going back to their home for the weekend.

We checked in a huge hotel with a soviet atmosphere (that’s what I felt in this massive building, with a concierge/guard on each floor).  The next day, I stayed in the hotel with the baby while Mendel went to the synagogue to pray Mincha, the afternoon prayer. He was supposed to be back within an hour.

Meanwhile, I fixed “dinner” in our hotel room: I opened cans of tuna, pickles and arranged them nicely in a plate. I cut a salad with the vegetables we had bought, and took out the crackers and Matzah bread. There, dinner was ready! And then I started waiting… and waiting… Mendel was not coming back. Stuck in a foreign country without understanding the language (I did NOT speak any Russian, let alone the local language) I started to imagine all the things that could have gone wrong. Maybe he was robbed? Maybe he was kidnapped? Maybe he was even assassinated? (Don’t forget Baku is only 100 km from Teheran). We did not have cell phones, so there was no way I could reach him or look for him anywhere. The only people I could reach were my parents, which I called hysterically. They tried to reason me, telling me there was probably a very simple reason that Mendel was late, that he met some people at the synagogue. But I could not be calmed down… (For my defense, I was also 3 weeks post-partum and a hormonal nutcase ;-) ). Anyhow, sure enough, Mendel arrived after 2 ½ hours, smiling, and asked: “I hope you were not worried?”.  He simply had met interesting people (after all, that was the purpose of our trip, to meet the local community), and he had no way to get in touch with me.

I was so happy to see him that I forgot to get upset at him J

PS: For various reasons, we decided not to move to Baku, but there is now a very successful Chabad center there. Instead, we ended up in Greece…. Not too bad either! ;-)

Shabbat report: my son the lawyer

As each Shabbat brings its share of interesting stories, I decided to start a new feature: the Shabbat report.

Ever heard of the joke about the mother who was asked how old her children are? She answered: “the doctor is 4, the lawyer is 2!!!” We definitely can say there is some truth to the idea that these careers are favored in Jewish society, as many of our guests are doctors and lawyers… I still remember this doctor of Iranian origin who told us there are 13 doctors in his immediate family, each one of them in a different specialty. You could be sick in all tranquility: all the specialists were trusted family members!!!

This week was a law week: 4 lawyers, 2 from New York, and 2 from Israel.  One of them, Ran, is actually a lawyer in the Israeli Army (Hi, Ran, you see, you made it to my blog! :). Add 3 young students from Seattle, a gentleman from Argentina, an Israeli guy starting a new job in Greece, a British fellow volunteering to excavate the archeological site of the Agora, a newlywed cute couple (she’s French as me, he’s an American who spent 3 years in Beijing, where he frequented the local Chabad - yes, there is chabad in China!), other couples from Israel, USA and you have the cocktail mix of this week’s Shabbat table. Ambiance was great, food was delicious (at least that’s what the guests pretended politely :), Mendel shared inspiring thoughts about the Parasha and one of our guests delighted us with Sefardi style Shabbat songs.

Shabbat lunch was a bit of an adventure:  during the walk from the synagogue, one of the guests got separated from the big group of people walking back home. Luckily, he still found his way and arrived to our place. The problem is that his wife was very worried, thinking that there was no way he would find it on his own, as he didn’t even know the address. So she went to look for him at their hotel… Lots of anguish… (I totally relate, since I experienced something similar in Azerbaijan, which I will relate in another post). But everything finished well: he went to bring her from the hotel and everyone was finally reunited at the Shabbat table…

Moral of the story: I’m not sure… Stick with the group? Don’t underestimate your spouse? ΄-)

In any case, you might enjoy the cartoon below: 

Mmm, the Challah is delicious…

The traditional braided Challah bread, fresh and odorant, adorn the Shabbat table covered with the white tablecloth. The Kiddush is made, all the guests wash their hands, and then Mendel breaks the bread after saying the blessing. He slices it, dips it 3 times in salt (if you’re curious, go here to find out why). Then, everybody tastes the challah and invariably, says: “mmm… this is delicious! Did you make it yourself?”

The answer is yes. In fact, I have little choice: the closest kosher bakery where I could buy Challot is two hour flight away, in Israel! But this is also an advantage: we all get to enjoy homemade challah every week, and it’s a delight!

By now, I’m a “professional” challah baker, but it wasn’t always the case. I remember the first time I made the challah dough, the Friday afternoon right after our arrival. I called my mother at least 10 times: “Mom, how am I supposed to do this?” “Mom, is it normal that it doesn’t rise?” “Mom, how long should I wait?” “Mom, is this color ok, are they baked enough?” Somehow, the challahs got baked this day, and they weren’t even that bad!!! J

By now, it’s a wonderful tradition: every week, we prepare the dough and let it rise. Then I make the blessing, which is one of the three Mitzvot that were especially entrusted to women.  Performing the Mitzvah of Challah is an auspicious time for prayer. When I remove a tiny piece of the dough, I ask for health, happiness and success for all the members of my family. I remember my role as physical and spiritual nurturer, I appreciate the fact that G-d has given me a loving family to care for. While I thank G-d for giving us food and livelihood, I remember those who are less fortunate than us, and put a coin in the Charity box.

It’s now time to braid the Challot. If the children are home, they get to do their own little challah, and they love it. I like to braid challot with 6 strands , they come out beautiful and it’s a symbolic number too: the 2 challot (Lechem mishne) which Mendel will use for the blessing will form the number 12, symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel: quite fitting for our Shabbat table, where we have guests from very diverse origins…





I have taught women of the community as well as children’s groups to make Challah. It was an opportunity to speak about Shabbat, about Kosher, about the woman’s role…  During the school year, I send Challot every week to the kindergarten and the elementary school, for their Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony (I hear from my children and others that they are popular, so it encourages me to continue to bake the 7 extra challot).

Many have asked me to share my recipe, which I don’t keep a secret. So here it is, enjoy : ( and don’t despair if it seems tedious at the beginning, Challot become better and easier with experience.



4 spoons dry yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

2 tablespoons sugar


2 kg sifted flour

2 tablespoons salt

1 cup sugar

4 eggs (checked)

1 cup oil

2 cups lukewarm water



1 egg

Poppy or sesame seeds



1)      Dissolve yeast and 2 tbsp of sugar in one cup lukewarm water. Let rise in a warm place for about 10-15 mn.

2)      Meanwhile, sift the flour, and put it together with the salt and sugar in a very large bowl.

3)      Add the oil, eggs, water and bubbly yeast to the flour mixture.

4)      Knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic. The dough should not stick to the hands or board. (If it does, sprinkle small amounts of flour on dough until it no longer sticks). (I use a mixer)

5)      Cover the bowl and set it in a warm place to rise for 45 mn. or a little longer, until dough has doubled in size.

6)      Punch down.

7)      To perform the Mitsva of Challah, say the blessing*, and take off some dough (about the size of an olive). Wrap it in silver foil and burn it in the oven.

8)      Divide dough into 8 equal parts to make 8 loaves of Challah. Smaller Challahs or rolls can be made according to taste and needs.

9)      Shape the Challot and place on baking sheets. Cover with cloth and let rise again for at least one hour.

10)  For the glaze, beat remaining egg and mix with 2 tablespoons water. “Paint” Challahs with beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds, if desired.

11)  Bake in a 180° oven for 30 minutes. If the top browns too quickly, cover with silver foil.           Tip: Challah is done when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.


*Barouch Ata Ado-nai               Elo-henu     Melech Haolam Asher Kideshanu  Bemitsvotav Vetsivanu  Lehafrish Challah



Hint: You may freeze some Challah for the next week in a plastic bag. Do so when Challahs have just cooled off.

When ready to use, take Challahs out to defrost for a few hours, or wrap it in silver foil and bake on 150° for 20- 30 minutes. It will taste like it was just baked!

Who’s coming for Shabbat?

Every Shabbat is different, and every Shabbat is a surprise. First the number of guests: many of them email/call in advance, but Mendel also brings “unexpected” visitors from the synagogue. I write “unexpected” with “”, because I do expect them, in fact, and I usually have more plates set on the table just in case. They are the expected unexpected guests…


The origin of the guests, the purpose of their visit, their job, their personality… everything is a surprise. A round at our Shabbat table is as good as going around the world: we have visitors from the five continents, from the States, Israel, France, Australia, Canada but also from more unusual places such as Ireland, Sweden, Chile, Panama, South Africa, India, Ukraine... We’ve even had visitors from Nepal and Malaysia, from Egypt and Iraq… from everywhere, I tell you!!!


All types of people come together to share the Shabbat meal: young backpackers just off school, honeymoon couples, families on vacation, but also people on business trips, participants to various congresses…


Still, these people from different origins, from different backgrounds, finding themselves in Greece in various circumstances, all join to celebrate the Shabbat together, regardless of the differences: All eat together, all sing together, all laugh together and the strong sense of community we feel is very heartwarming…


Anywhere in the world, on Friday evening, you can join a community (and chabad, of course) and find the flickering candles of Shabbat, the sweet wine for Kiddush, the heavenly scent of the Challa bread…  The food may vary from gefilte fish and kugel to more spicy dishes, but the holy essence of Shabbat is universal.


So indeed, every Shabbat is different, every Shabbat, we host different people but in a sense, each Shabbat is the same: an inspiring experience of unity and brotherhood…

Counting diamonds

Today if the 3rd of Tamuz, the 14th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It is an auspicious day, a day fit for prayer, for inspiration, for growth.


I had the privilege of meeting the Rebbe personally a few times.


My mother tells of how, as a one year old baby in my father’s arms, I was clapping and jumping in the Rebbe’s synagogue, known as 770 (pronounced seven seventy), while the Rebbe was encouraging the lively singing of the Chasidim, and smiling and waving most particularly at me.


I remember saying a Torah verse at age 8 in front of the Rebbe, during a children’s rally before the holiday of Passover, as the Rebbe was watching proudly – so it seemed to me - from the side.


I most vividly remember my pre-Bat Mitsvah trip to NY during the holiday of Sukkot and Simchat Torah.


It is too difficult to describe the many facets and qualities of the Rebbe, his immense knowledge, his tireless commitment to the Jewish people, his care and love for every single person, no matter his origin, his level of observance or his stand in life. If we’re here in Greece, it is thanks to him, to his vision, to his concern for even small and far flung Jewish communities.


The following story epitomizes – in my eyes – the deep love the Rebbe had for his people.


Every Sunday (and on other occasions as well), The Rebbe would stand and distribute one dollar bills to the many visitors who came to visit him, often from far, to ask for his blessing and advice. Thus, the Rebbe was making them in charge of giving it to charity. The Rebbe, who was well into his eighties, was standing in his room for 8 hours straight, greeting men, women, children, Jews and non-Jews alike, with a blessing, sometimes a piece of advice, an answer to a question.


Once an elderly lady who had been waiting online for a long time, asked the Rebbe: “How do you do it? How do you not get tired?”. The Rebbe smiled and answered: “Every soul is a diamond. Can one grow tired of counting diamonds?"


Below is a video of the Rebbe giving a dollar to a Russian child from Israel.


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