When I first started traveling to Boulder back during the Rockies’ first baseball season in 1993, I befriended a lot of Jewish people. In fact, the reason I stayed in Colorado was because of baseball, having been Major League Baseball starved for most of my life.
I don’t know the attraction, but at the time I was working for the Northern Arapaho Tribe on the Wind River Indian Reservation in west central Wyoming. This is the Arapaho flag.
There was a nonprofit group in Boulder – now defunct – called the Next 500 Years (N500Y) that had as its mission the repatriation of tribal lands. Turned out that was a bit lofty, but creating a “cultural conduit” between the rez and Boulder seemed to be a bit more doable.
At that time, there were a lot of art galleries on the Pearl Street Mall and the idea was to convince the galleries to dedicate some space for Arapaho artists and artisans. The project started to get some legs but the organization went out of business for a variety of reasons, none of which will be mentioned here.
The tribal cultural conduit went away, but I remained. Most if not all of the N500Y crowd moved out of Boulder.
My N500Y Jewish pals took me along to quite a few Jewish events, including Passover seders in my early days in Boulder. Back then, Rabbi Firestone was just starting up her reformed synagogue in her home and in the homes of members.
Some of my new Jewish friends had fallen away from their roots and I was more of a safety valve as they checked out what the reform movement had to offer. That congregation has grown to point that it took over my former Methodist church on 19th Street in North Boulder which was “deconsecrated” and otherwise went out of business a couple years ago.
To refresh your memories from Sunday school / Hebrew school about Passover, here is a very truncated version of the origins of Passover.
The descendents of Joseph (of the “Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” fame) eventually decided to stick in Egypt. The Hebrews take on the Egyptians, for some reason. That was a hopeless cause.
I think for revenge, the Pharaoh put out a decree to find and kill the first born children of Hebrew moms. Upon learning of this, baby Moses’s sister, Miriam, hides him in a basket in the shallow the bull rushes. The basket and infant Moses are fished out by the pharaoh’s daughter who brings him up as an Egyptian prince.
Prince Moses gets into trouble – what he does, I can’t remember, but he ends up stealing out of town. He eventually returns after getting the word from God to free his people from Pharaoh Ramses.
Moses makes a demand to the Pharaoh to “Let my people go” – Charlton Heston’s Moses and Yul Brenner as the Pharaoh are probably the most widely recognized in American pop culture.
Unless he does, Moses tells the pharaoh that there will be a bunch of consequences – 10 to be exact – perpetrated by his God in the forms of polluted water, various kinds of frogs clogging up the waterways, bugs eating the crops among other plagues.
What finally convinces the Pharaoh is, after the 10th quid pro quo, his first born child dies after the Angel of Death passes over, but spares the Hebrew households that have smeared lambs’ blood above their doors – ergo, The Passover.
The bummed-out Pharaoh sends the Hebrews packing. In their haste, they don’t have time to let their bread rise and thus the sympolic use of unleavened matzoh during Passover.
Things don’t get much better, since the Pharaoh and his troops go after them, but get swallowed up after the Red Sea parts. Moses and his people are out wandering around in the middle of nowhere searching for the “Promised Land” having faith that Moses knows where he’s going. There’s more, but you can read the book of Exodus as well as I can.
As for myself, being a gentile, I was accepted at the Jewish ritual events, including Hanukkah (not-so-ritual) and Passover (very ritual), but haven’t really participated much in recent years, although writing all this reminds me about that old joke about Japanese Jews.
These two guys are walking down the street and wonder whether there are any Japanese Jews. They finally decide to put their debate to rest and wander into a Sushi restaurant.
One guy asks the Sushi chef, “Excuse me, but my friend and I are having a debate and wondered if you could help settle it. Do you know of any Japanese Jews?”
Of course in Boulder, there are plenty of Jewish Buddhists. When I ran the Boulder Asian Film Festival, a documentary called “A Zen Life” screened at the Shambala Center about a Japanese scholar named D.T. Suzuki. He is credited for bringing Buddhism to the west back in the early part of the 20th century.
The sushi chef thinks for a moment and says, “I don’t know, let me go back and ask the owner, he’ll know.”
A few minutes later the sushi chef comes back out and says, “Oh, no Japanese Jews, but we have orange jews, tomato jews, grape jews, but no Japanese Jews.”
Pretty bad, but generally gets a laugh.
World War II Exodus
There is another historic link between Japanese and Jews.
My friend Chris Tashima did a short movie that won an Oscar for “Visas and Virtues” about Jews during the World War II diaspora fleeing Germany through Lithuania many heading for Shanghai in China which also was a safe haven. I suspect this is where Jewish women began their interest in Mahjong.
The Japanese Consulate Sempo Sugihara (Chris Tashima), risked bad repercussions for his actions there when he processed hundreds of documents of transit.
I’m working on screening “Visas and Virtues” at the Heart Mountain Japanese Internment Camp Interpretive Center by Powell, Wyoming in June.
My colleague Michael Conti asked if I could help him on a live video stream from the house of a “Boulder Rabbi” next week.
Turns out it’s Reb Zalman Schachter, who I’ve been following around since I moved to Boulder starting with my stint on the Boulder Human Relations Commission.
He wrote a book called “From Aging to Saging” which is how I first got to know about him. I gave my dad a copy of the book when he retired and was figuring out what he wanted to do.
Reb Zalman can’t make the trip to a conference himself, but will be there via the internet. I am quite honored to set up this remote which will be happening next week.
Where does that leave my story …
Kugel. There’s a microwave recipe for sweet noodle kugel I’ll whip up today.
Sweet Noodle Kugel
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1 (8 ounce) package egg noodles
- 2 apples – peeled, cored and finely chopped
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup cottage cheese
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- 2 tablespoons butter
- * Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir in the egg noodles, and return to a boil. Cook the pasta uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 5 minutes. Drain well in a colander set in the sink.
- * Grease an 8-inch square microwave-safe glass baking dish. Beat the eggs together in a mixing bowl. Stir in the cooked noodles, white sugar, chopped apples, sour cream, cottage cheese, cinnamon, salt, and raisins; mix until combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish.
- * Microwave on medium high (70% power) for 7 minutes.
- * Combine the brown sugar and chopped walnuts in a bowl, and cut in the butter to form a crumbly topping. Sprinkle the topping over the pudding. Return the pudding to the microwave and cook on medium high (70% power) until the pudding is firm in the center, 7 to 9 minutes.