Burning Chametz

chametz burning in Edison New Jersey
Before Pesach we have a custom of burning chametz (bread, crackers, cereal, pasta, anything made of five grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt). When I was a kid, I remember burning chametz in our backyard. Now there are laws about creating fires, so observant Jews get special permission to burn chametz. This burning took place in Edison, New Jersey.

chametz burn lulav
A tradition we have in our family (and others do as well) is to burn the lulav, the palm branch left over from Sukkot, the fall holiday in which we sit in a booth outside for a week.

smokey bread chametz and lulav
In this photo you can see both lulavim (plural of lulav) and real bread. It got quite smokey – my husband doesn’t remember it being so smokey in the past. Maybe this is because the regular Edison staff were on vacation for Good Friday and a nice person was left in charge who didn’t quite manage the smoke? I don’t know, but I left there sniffing my clothes, wondering if I smelt like someone who had walked into a smokey bar.

I had enough time to attend biur chametz (burning of the chametz) this year because I managed to get all the cooking I had planned the day before and early in the morning. One of the most popular dishes among my sister-in-law’s family that I made was mushroom paté; personally, my favorite was the marinated beets with ginger and garlic. Planning to make both of those again tomorrow.

Honor the Elderly

etrog watercolor
Etrog, watercolor on paper by Leora Wenger, October 2011

What is beauty? Is it the Doryphorus, as the Greeks believed, the young man with the slender, slightly bent posture? According to Judaism, strangely enough, the elderly are considered beautiful, as it says in Kedoshim 19:32 –

“Rise in the presence of the aged and honor the face of the old man”
מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם, וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן

Honor the face of an old man could also be translated as “ascribe beauty to the elderly.” Who has knowledge like an elderly person? Who has overcome so much and come so far?

Note the word used here: hadar. Hadar is also used to describe the etrog. Unlike other fruits, the other “lives” for a long time on the tree and does not fall off on its own. The word in Hebrew is dar, similar to hadar. Does the etrog watercolor remind one of an older person? How?

(Credit for these ideas goes to Rabbi Bassous, for helping me remember parts of his speech to my husband, and for help with locating the pasuk to my middle son).

In honor of my father, my favorite elderly person, and in memory of my aunt, my father’s older sister who died earlier this year and who lived admirably as an older person (she was also an artist). In memory of my dear mother – her yahrzeit is next week. And in memory of Linda Greenberg, who tragically lost her battle with cancer this week and will never experience old age.

Nature Notes: Early Fall Backyard

rudbeckia with blue background
I really would have liked to have photographed some of the blue jays I saw yesterday. Instead, here’s a rudbeckia from a yard in which I emphasized the blue background with Photoshop.

aster tiny flying insect
When I put this photo of tiny asters on my computer, I noticed a tiny flying insect enjoyed the flowers even more than I did.

ugly red berries
Ugly red berries (maybe you like them?) are growing on a tree in my backyard.

sparrow discovers bird feeder
I finally filled my bird feeder again. I left it alone all summer, as birds seem to love my compost in the summer. But I’m trying to get in the habit of filling it, so in the winter the birds will know they can show up for a nosh. This sparrow seems to have already helped himself – do you think he is digesting his meal before flying off? Or is that only something humans do?

Next week is Sukkot and the week after Simhat Torah-Shemini Atzeret, so I won’t have much time for blogging or Nature Notes. On Sukkot we do have some contact with nature – in particular, we sit outside in a sukkah for all our meals. One can see see the stars through the roof of the sukkah (assuming it’s a clear night). Can any of my Jewish friends explain to my non-Jewish readers a few other natural elements of Sukkot?

Red Flowers Red Panels

red mum buds
How pretty when the buds of my chrysanthemum start to show red. Last week, those buds were closed and green.

red petunia
This sole red petunia graces the front of my front yard. My other petunias are mostly fuchsia.

taking the sukkah down 2010
This is what the men in my family (my husband and two sons) were doing while I photographed fall flowers – they were taking down our sukkah, the temporary dwelling that we eat in for one week each fall. At this point, all the decorations were already down. The panels are sort of red – a brown that is a cousin of red, perhaps.

For more red posts, visit Ruby Tuesday:
Ruby Tuesday

How to Create a Sukkah Decoration (with red)

We are in the middle of celebrating the holiday of Sukkot, in which observant Jews around the world eat (some sleep) outside in little booths called Sukkot (singular = sukkah). With my son’s guidance, this post will teach how to create a sukkah decoration (recipes vary wildly from family to family – there are no set traditions for decorations).


  • 1 creative, artistic mind
  • paper
  • 1 box of markers
  • 1 pencil for initial sketch
  • Clear contact paper for laminating

First my son drew the initial sketch with pencil. Then he painstakingly colored in the drawing:
The spaceships have no religious significance. The Hebrew says “Brukhim Ha’Baim” – Welcome to All Those Who Come, which is a common greeting to put at an entrance to a sukkah. You can see those words on the front of our sukkah at the bottom of this post.
When the drawing is complete, one cuts some clear contact paper slightly bigger on all sides than the drawing. Then one cuts one more piece of contact paper the same size as the first. Carefully peel off the backing and place the contact paper on both sides of the drawing.

Here is the drawing hanging in our sukkah. There are also a lot of red apples in the sukkah; my son made a game for our guests of “count the apples” – he claimed we had 50 apples pictured in the decorations.

Here is a photo of the sukkah from further back. Unfortunately, this may be the last year of this sukkah. My husband says it takes too long to put up (he created it himself), and it is also not big enough for hosting guests. So we may get a new one, probably a pre-fab that is easier to put up.

Do you have any decorating traditions?

For more photos with a little or a lot of red, visit Ruby Tuesday:

Watercolor: Willow Leaf Study

Watercolor: A Study of an Arava Leaf
Watercolor: A Study of an Arava Leaf

Wednesday morning I did this little watercolor of an arava leaf (you might recognize it as a willow leaf, its name in English). It is one of the many natural symbols in the upcoming holiday of Sukkot, which starts on Monday night, Oct. 13. I actually was only looking at one leaf, which I painted a few times on the same piece of watercolor paper. My son planted a little willow branch in the backyard this year, and I was afraid if I took off more than one leaf off the little “tree”, there wouldn’t be much tree left. My other son agreed that I should put some compost around the edges of the little plant. It certainly has been getting enough water, as we’ve had rain on and off lately. Maybe I’ll photograph our little willow for another post.

 See what our sukkah looked like a few years ago