Askew

Joel Schatz

Joel Schatz offers a slightly off-center look at the news.

Askew

America’s next big gefilte, some very serious clowns, and the Duggars hit Israel

 Permanent link

In an apparent follow-up to its intriguing look inside the world of beet borscht a few months ago (See Askew, July 25), the Wall Street Journal now is probing one of the nation’s nagging business challenges: Can Manischewitz bring gefilte fish into the 21st century? 

Sales of jarred gefilte fish had been declining steadily, so when co-CEO Paul Bensabat and partners took over the 123-year-old company in 2008, they decided to spice things up.

The change in management wasn’t simply a business transition. It was a fundamental cultural shift. For well over a century, Manischewitz has been synonymous with “Jewish” foods rooted in Eastern EuropeanAshkenaziheritage.

But “Mr. Bensabat, a Moroccan Jew born in Casablanca, had never tasted gefilte fish when he and his partner joined an investor who had acquired the company,” the Journal reported. “His childhood memories were of couscous and other dishes of the Mediterranean.”

The story relates how Mr. Bensabat set out to make Manischewitz more Mediterranean, starting with the introduction of Moroccan fish balls. The ensuing tale describes the challenges in translating his 83-year-old mother’s recipe“Take a fish, and ‘add a little bit of cumin’”into something that could be commercially produced by a company that wasn’t even sure what cumin was.

After many attempts, and extensive discussions about what to call it“fish meatballs” won outthe product hit stores last spring.

“Mr. Bensabat says it's doing ‘quite nicely, but a new product takes time.’ And the company says sales of gefilte fish are stabilizing, which they attribute to a longing for ‘comfort food.’”

The partners aren't done. They're trying to make oregano-flavored matzoh, and ‘Mediterranean gefilte fish,’ adding rosemary and other spices.

* * *

Israel, already recognized as a world leader in science, technology and medicine, now is blazing the trail in yet another field: clown therapy.

While circus-style performers long have entertained youngsters in pediatric wards in many countries, Israel’s Dream Doctors program is leading the effort to professionalize clown therapy as a standardized, research-backed healthcare discipline, the Israel21C website reports. In late October, the group hosted an international congress where medical clowning associations shared theories and practices.

"My vision is that the same way hospitals hire any therapist, they'll hire medical clowns," says Dr. Arthur Eidelman, the recently retired chief of pediatrics at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center and professor of pediatrics at the Hebrew University's Faculty of Medicine.

Eidelman chaired the scientific committee for the conference, and shared Israeli research showing that “putting trained clowns on the medical team leads to measurable benefits in pain relief, stress reduction and boosting immunity. Pre-surgical and post-surgical patients ‘treated’ by medical clowns need less anesthesia before and less pain medication after the operation. In-vitro fertilization patients who are exposed to clown therapy right after implantation are more likely to become pregnant.

“In many countries, he explains, ‘clowns come into hospitals in the afternoon, after rounds are over. Here, we work integrally together during rounds. I don't see the medical clowns differently than any other part of the team. It's not entertainment; it's therapy.’

About 80 Dream Doctors work in 18 Israeli hospitals, Israel21C reports. They help make assessments and devise treatment plans, just like music, drama, art or occupational and physical therapists do, and they use their paramedical training to assist with various bedside procedures.

The Magi Foundation, which has funded Dream Doctors since 2004, helped set up the world's only undergraduate degree program in clown therapy as a paramedical profession, available at the University of Haifa's Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies. A master's program will soon follow.

* * *

Rachel Held Evans is an evangelical Christian who decided to spend a year discovering just what “biblical womanhood” really meant. So she committed herself to living strictly by the book, following every rule in the Old and New Testaments.

Along the way, she learned a few things from Jewish teachings.

According to National Public Radio, that showed up in some unexpected ways. To comply with passsages calling on women to stay “busy in the home,” Evans at one point prepared homemade matzah toffee for Passover.

But there also were more spiritual insights.

Evans told Guy Raz, weekend host on NPR’s All Things Considered, that she'd hated Proverbs 31 for years "because in the evangelical culture, it's lifted up as sort of like the model for all women everywhere, and it talks about a woman who sews from morning till night and provides food for her family and clothing."

Her perspective shifted, however, after talking to a friend about the Jewish interpretation of the passage, which includes Eishet Chayil, “A Woman of Valor.” Her friend said men were the ones who memorized the passage as a way of praising womenher friend's husband sings it to his wife at every Sabbath meal.

"That whole passage got turned around for me when I started looking at it from a more Jewish perspective and seeing it less as something that God expects all women to do and more as a way of praising what women have already accomplished," she says.

* * *

The Duggars, stars of the TLC reality TV series “19 Kids and Counting,” recently headed off to Israel with the whole clantwo parents, the 19 kids, one daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, one grandmother and a cousin, plus the obligatory film crew.

El Al Airlines’ Sky Words newsletter  says the family checked 24 bags totaling 720 pounds, as well as three strollers and four car seats. There were 10 outfits and three pairs of shoes per person, along with 70 baby bottles and 40 hair bows.

Fortunately, they found an airline that has plenty of experience handling large families.