The BEST Potato Latkes Ever (I promise!)

Here’s the deal: I like my latkes thin, crispy and traditional (read: russet potatoes.)  This is my winner recipe that I’ve been using for years. I deem it “excellent” as you can see by my photo. 🙂  

It’s a recipe by Nach Waxman that I found in the The New Basics Cookbook by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso.  

Here are the secrets:
a) You’ve got to use a lot of oil (yes, your house and whatever clothes you are wearing will smell like potato latkes for at least a week. It’s worth it.

b) You’ve got to drain the grated potatoes in order to get the liquid out. Don’t skip that step.

c) My husband Ely feels that grating the potatoes by hand is the best, most authentic way for the latkes to have the right consistency. While I agree with him, I’m kind of attached to my hands and don’t want to end up in the emergency room on Chanukah. So, when he’s doing it, he’ll grate by hand. When I do it, I use my food processor.

You’re welcome.  

Happy Chanukah! Enjoy!


img_40541. Using a hand grater or a food processor, coarsely grate the
(unpeeled) potatoes and place them in a glass or ceramic bowl. Let them sit for 15 – 20 minutes. The potatoes will release liquid and turn red.

2. Grate the onions into another bowl, and set them aside.

3. Transfer the potatoes to a large colander, and let them drain for 10 minutes. Then spray them hard with water for 2 to 3 minutes, working the shreds with your fingers. The reddish starch will wash out and the potatoes will be white again. Squeeze them to remove as much water as possible, and transfer them to a clean mixing bowl.

4. Using a fork, stir the onions into the potatoes. Then add the eggs, flour, baking powder, and pepper, and mix thoroughly.

5. Heat 1/8 inch of corn oil (and chicken fat) in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Using a slotted spoon, drop level spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil. Saute them until golden brown on both sides, pressing them lightly with the spatula when you turn them, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. As they are cooked, drain the pancakes on brown paper bags and keep them warm in a 200° oven. Add more oil to the skillet as needed for additional batches. Serve the latkes immediately, piping hot with applesauce and sour cream (of course.)

If you want a twist on the traditional recipe, try Hilah’s Tex-Mex Latkes:

Spiritual Friendship

This time calls for our best – and some days we may have a hard time remembering what that looks or feels like. Good friends help us remember who we are. I’m not sure who said this, but I love it:


Friends help hold us up when we feel like crashing, they make us laugh, and they essentially say, “hey, let me help you carry this burden.”

Frienship is the gift we can give each other when times are painful. When we despair, a good friend is both compassionate and accepting, and can help us with perspective.

Kavannah (Intention) For Those Not Ready To Forgive

Some hurts take time to heal. And some of us (mostly women) apologize too much and too fast – to our own detriment. This is for you.


Kavannah (Intention) For Those Not Ready To Forgive

The weight of this season compels us to forgive,

and to open our hearts.

There are many among us who have endured deep hurts,

this year,

and some from many years ago

Some of us are not sure of the path forward

amidst the prayers and pleadings of Yom Kippur to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

For the woman who was violated

and for the man beaten down,

And for anyone with a broken heart or a crushed soul

who might not be quite ready to forgive.

It’s ok.

Take your time,

Sometimes the timetable of the High Holy Days

doesn’t match the rhythm of your heart.

Sometimes our devoted prayers get intermingled with inner voices not quite resolved:

such as,

“maybe it wasn’t all that bad”

“just let go”

“let bygones be bygones”

“be the bigger person” or

“maybe I’m being too sensitive.”

This year,

love yourself enough

to trust

your own timing.

Be patient enough to

stay in the place of

“not yet.”

You commit to the work of resolution,

not being attached to an outcome or timetable.

Trust that you will find your way forward,

that you WILL come to a time

where holding on

hurts more than letting go.

Forgive yourself for not being yet ready.

From that place of total acceptance,

May you have faith that the path will open up.

Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman, October 2016

Begin to Dust Off Your Soul: High Holidays 2016

The month of Elul in which we do the spiritual preparation necessary for the upcoming High Holidays begins SUNDAY September 3.

There are so many ways to begin “dusting off” our souls.  When we do, we join with people all over the world who are entering the river of reflection.

I published this article on Medium that begins with a Rebbe Nachman teaching about judging others with generosity — and ALSO judging OURSELVES with kindness. Here’s how it begins — and please do click over to Medium to read the article (it’s a 3 minute read 🙂  AND – at the end of the article, there’s a link to get my FREE High Holiday Preparation List & Video!

Judge with Generosity: Become a Melody

Photo credit: Nick Kenrick. via / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: Nick Kenrick. via / CC BY-NC-SA

“You have to judge each person generously…Even one who is completely bad, you need to seek out and to find within that person some small bit of good, that bit where she is not bad. By this means, when you find that bit of good, and judge her generously, you actually raise her up to the level of merit…” Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav*

Rabbi Nachman (1772–1810) makes the bold claim that by being generous in our evaluations of others, we can help raise people up, and restore their souls. Whether or not you believe that we have that kind of power, it is certain that searching for the good in each other is healing for our own souls.



Mindfulness Practice & Tisha B’av

Although this piece takes off about a particular commemoration in the Jewish calendar, I am certain that the lessons are universal. This article was orstones-1372677_640-1iginally published in a collection honoring the retirement of my meditation teacher, Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg. (FYI — Tisha B’av is what’s considered a minor holiday, and a day of mourning.) YET — because it’s about breakdown & restoration and brokenness and renewal, the learnings can be applied to many situations in our lives, no matter what your spiritual practice. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

It usually happens in August. We are still in high summer mode, yet on the periphery of our consciousness, we are aware that summer is waning. The light is changing, the days are getting shorter. And then, like an intrusion comes Tisha B’av.

This “holiday” commemorates the utter destruction of the 1st and 2nd temples in Jerusalem so many years ago. In the riotous bloom that is summer, we are called to remember destruction and breakdown.

We gather with other Jews and chant a soulful melody from the book of Lamentations written by the prophet Jeremiah. He begins: Eichah? How has this happened? It’s an echo that reverberates back to the Garden of End, when God calls out to Adam and Eve, Ayecka (Where are you?)

We are being called to wake up.  TO READ THE REST, CLICK HERE

*** ALSO – I’m offering Coming Home: Spiritual Preparation for the High Holy Days – a 4 session webinar that begins September 8. For more information, click here. The early bird price ends soon so please check it out now: Spiritual Preparation for the High Holy Days 2016

Three Mindfulness Lessons From The Wilderness

It’s usually high summer when we enter the wilderness in the Jewish calendar – by that I mean the book of B’midbar (also known as the Book of Numbers) in the Torah. It’s filled with fascinating juicy stories of rebellions and challenges. It’s like the adolescence of the Israelite people as we wander for 40 years. Here’s an intro to thewilderness piece I published on Medium about lessons from the wilderness:

There is the real physical wilderness which some of us visit from time to time.

And then there is the spiritual wilderness that visits us from time to time — sometimes longer than we would like.

Times of illness or transition or loss of any kind can put us into an existential desert where there is no map and no set path forward.

The only way out is through.

The lessons we learn from spending time in unknown territory are profound and life-changing.

In fact, there is wisdom that can ONLY be gleaned in the wilderness.



What Teaching Are You Living?

What do you know to be true?

What have you learned about how to be a human being in this world?

What has life taught you that you’d want to pass on to those you love?

Taken all together, these truths are your “torah.”  (Torah, in Hebrew, means “teaching.”)

Every person writes a Torah with their life.  It’s a personal collection of wisdom gathered from our experiences and stories.

The great Hasidic master Sfat Emet says it like this:

Every person has his or her own piece of Torah. The complete Torah was given to the Jewish people as a whole. However, each person has a personal teaching, his or her own Torah, inside them. This is hidden within the soul. There is a piece of Torah that can be learned from every person. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter

As we get ready to celebrate the giving and receiving of our collective Torah on Shavuot, I’m reminded to revisit what I believe to be true. 

I have found it instructive to think about HOW I came to these truths as well. 

My torah is not simply made up of platitudes found in a book.

No, these truths are hard-won, often the result of difficult experiences, trial and error.seedling

Yet – those are the best kind of lessons because gaining wisdom from pain is “wrestling a blessing” like our ancestor Jacob did when he struggled with that man ( the ish.) After that night of wrestling, he gets a new name – he is forever changed.

Here are a few bits of wisdom from my own life. What are yours?

  • In order to grow a beautiful garden, I need to build the soil. And this takes time. I need to assess the state of the soil so that the roots can grow. The invisible is as important as the visible: the microbes and earthworms and minerals need to be tended so that the showy flowers and vegetables put into the soil will be solidly rooted.
    • And how did I come to this piece of wisdom that I have not only applied to gardens, but to relationships and groups  and raising children…?  By failing at my first garden attempt. And then, seeking out books, classes, and experts to learn how to do it right.
  • When I feel unhappy or lonely, reaching out to help someone else really helps me! When I extend my hand to others who are in pain, I’m lifted to a new consciousness. I can’t stay stuck when I am being present for another human being.
    • This insight came to me when I was a freshman in college, going through a spate of depression. I remember distinctly the moment when one of my dorm mates was going through an even harder time. I sat with her, listened and when I got up from that conversation, I felt my own depression fade. And I remember saying to myself: remember this: when I’m in a bad place, reach out to help someone else.
  • Pay attention to how I feel inside when I’m in a friendship. If I find myself judging my words and actions, or feel “less than”, or worry about my value when I’m with another person, I need to re-assess the relationship. Real friends lift us up. Real friends like us just as we ARE and help us remember who we are.
    • I learned this after several friendships in which I did NOT feel good about myself. I stayed too long in some of them. This was such a huge learning for me that I taught my kids when they were little to make sure they checked in with their own hearts when they were in a friendship: did they feel good about who they were when they were with a particular friend? did they feel put down or devalued in any way? If so, that person was not worth their energy.

When I officiate a funeral, I always meet with the family of the person who has died. Essentially, I want to know what that person’s torah was. And so I ask: What did you learn from him or her? What did she stand for? What were his deepest-held beliefs? What legacy did they leave for you?

Each person has a Torah, unique to that person, his or her innermost teaching. Some seem to know their Torahs very early in life and speak and sing them in a myriad of ways. Others spend their whole lives stammering, shaping, and rehearsing them. Some are long, some short. Some are intricate and poetic, others are only a few words, and still others can only be spoken through gesture and example. But every soul has a Torah. To hear another say Torah is a precious gift. For each soul, by the time of his or her final hour, the Torah is complete, the teaching done. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know: Finding Self, Spirituality and Ultimate Meaning. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993, 177

And because I can’t help myself – I have to add a few lyrics from the Broadway musical, Hamilton. From Alexander Hamilton as he lay dying: “Legacy. “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see…” and his question to Aaron Burr: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” (lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Please share from your own torah:

What do you stand for?

What are your deepest held beliefs?

When I really got this, it also made me appreciate the torah of others and to hold their stories with reverence.

This Shavuot – find a place to study our collective Torah, and to be in community where our individual torahs are shared.

(Wisdom and Revelation is what we are focusing on this month in Hineni: The Mindful Heart Community. To find out how to join us from anywhere, click here: )

Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman

June 8, 2016

Before We Move On: Thoughts About Endings

Usually when we think of the end of the year, we are either talking about December (in the secular year) or in Jewish time, right before the High Holidays in early Fall.

Yet, there’s another time of year that is all about endings: the school or class year.

As human beings, we have many different ways of dealing with endings. Some of us like to slink out the door, hoping nobody will notice, so that we don’t have to feel the feelings of “goodbye” or “I am so happy THIS is over…”  And some of us get super busy with what’s “next” and immerse ourselves in filling the empty time with new activities.IMG_4800sunflower

A mindful way of experiencing endings is to stop, pay attention, notice our feelings (depressed? excited relief?) and register our habitual tendencies when something is over.

Whether we breathe a sigh of relief that the year has come to an end, or feel sad that this year’s learning has come to a close, it’s important to take the time to reflect on the experience of what we have learned and to integrate we’ve learned into our new selves.

Endings give us the opportunity to think about who we are NOW:

  • What difference has this year/class/course made in my life?
  • How am I a better person because of this experience?
  • What did I learn that I most want to remember? 
  • In what ways was the “veil lifted and my soul felt delight?”

One of my favorite poets, John O’Donohue, has a beautiful blessing that I turn to at ending times:

The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.

Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.

The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

— John O’Donohue (To Bless The Space Between Us/Benedictus)

Rabbi Jill’s Meditation & Mindfulness Booklist

Jewish Meditation & Mindfulness Books (* most highly recommended)

*Meditation App: I use Insight Timer (available on the Itunes & Android app store.)  Come join The Jewish Mindfulness Network group on the app. See you there!

11412229_10153322913526280_3794959904419558428_oBloomfield, Diane. Torah Yoga: Experiencing Jewish Wisdom Through Classic Postures. Jossey-Bass, 2004.

*Boorstein, Sylvia. That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist. HarperOne, 1998.

Boorstein, Sylvia. Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life. Ballantine Books, 2008.

Comins, Rabbi Mike. A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways Into Judaism. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007.

Cooper, David A. The Heart of Stillness: The Elements of Spiritual Practice. Harmony, 1994.

Cooper, David A. God Is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism. Riverhead Books, 1998.

Cooper, David A. Silence, Simplicity & Solitude: A Complete Guide to Spiritual Retreat. Skylight Paths Publishing, 1999.

Cooper, David A. The Handbook of Jewish Meditation Practices. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2000.

Davis, Avram. Meditation from the Heart of Judaism: Today’s Teachers Share Their Practices, Techniques, and Faith. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1999.

Davis, Avram. The Way of Flame: A Guide to the Forgotten Mystical Tradition of Jewish Meditation. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1999.

Falcon, Ted. A Journey of Awakening: 49 Steps from Enslavement to Freedom: A Guide for Using the Kabbalistic Tree of Life in Jewish Meditation. Skynear Press, 2003.

*Fine, Lawrence, Eitan Fishbane, and Or N. Rose. Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts, Contemporary Reflections. Jewish Lights Pub, 2010.  IMG_2441

*Frankiel, Tamar, and Judy Greenfeld. Minding the Temple of the Soul: Balancing Body, Mind, and Spirit Through Traditional Jewish Prayer, Movement, and Meditation. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1997.

*Frankiel, Tamar, and Judy Greenfield. Entering the Temple of Dreams: Jewish Prayers, Movements, and Meditations for Embracing the End of the Day. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2000.

Freed, Marcus J. The Kosher Sutras: The Jewish Way in Yoga and Meditation. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

*Gefen, Nan Fink. Discovering Jewish Meditation: Instruction & Guidance for Learning an Ancient Spiritual Practice. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011.

Kaplan, Aryeh. Jewish Meditation & the Bible. Schocken, 1985.

Kaplan, Aryeh. Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide. Schocken, 1995.

Levy, Rabbi Yael. Journey Through the Wilderness: A Mindfulness Approach to the Ancient Jewish Practice of Counting the Omer. CreateSpace, 2012.

*Lew, Alan. This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. Little, Brown and Company, 2003.

*Lew, Alan. Be Still and Get Going: A Jewish Meditation Practice for Real Life. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

*Lew, Alan. One God Clapping. LongHill Partners, Inc., 2009.

Roth, Jeff. Jewish Meditation Practices for Everyday Life: Awakening Your Heart, Connecting with God. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2009.

Shapiro, Rami M. The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice. Skylight Paths Publishing, 2006. pathway2

Slater, Jonathan. Mindful Jewish Living: Compassionate Practice. Aviv Press, 2007.

*Timoner, Rachel. Breath of Life: God as Spirit in Judaism. Paraclete Press, 2011.

*Weinberg, Sheila Peltz. Surprisingly Happy: An Atypical Religious Memoir. White River Press, 2010.

Mindfulness (Buddhist-based, Sufi, secular)

Bays, Jan Chozen. How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness. Shambhala, 2011.

Brach, Tara. Meditations for Emotional Healing: Finding Freedom in the Face of Difficulty. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2009.

Brach, Tara. Mindfulness Meditation: Nine Guided Practices to Awaken Presence and Open Your Heart. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2012.

*Chodron, Pema. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Shambhala, 2002. Lets Get Started

Chodron, Pema. The Pema Chodron Audio Collection: Pure Meditation:Good Medicine:From Fear to Fearlessness. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2004.

*Chodron, Pema. Unconditional Confidence: Instructions for Meeting Any Experience with Trust and Courage. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2009.

Emerick, Yahiya. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Rumi Meditations. Alpha, 2008.

Kornfield, Jack. Living Dharma: Teachings and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters. Shambhala, 2010.

Kornfield, Jack. A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2011.

Kozak, Arnold. Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness. Wisdom Publications, 2009.

Gunaratana, Bhante. Mindfulness in Plain English: 20th Anniversary Edition. Wisdom Publications, 2011.

Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha’s Path. Wisdom Publications, 2001. Jeff M taking a moment

*Salzberg, Sharon. Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program. Workman Publishing Company, 2010.

*Siegel, Daniel J. Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. Bantam, 2010.

*Williams, Mark, and Danny Penman. Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Rodale Books, 2012.


Self-Compassion, Listening

*Brown, Brene. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Hazelden, 2010.

Guenther, Margaret. Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction. Cowley Publications, 1992.

*Lamott, Anne. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Riverhead Hardcover, 2012.

* Neff, Kristen. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

*Nepo, Mark. The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. Conari Press, 2000. standing on holy ground

*Germer, Christopher K. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. The Guilford Press, 2009.

Singer, Michael A. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. New Harbinger Publications/ Noetic Books, 2007.



Meaningful Quotes on the Sabbath on Pinterest!

Check out the timeless, poetic wisdom of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in bite-size pieces on my Pinterest board. I’ve taken Heschel’s “greatest hits” from his classic book, The Sabbath in the hope of inspiring us all to take time to unplug, be present, and appreciate what is.

Rabbi Heschel’s wisdom is timeless and poetic. He teaches that as human “be-ings”, it is essential to intentionally carve out time where we can appreciate the world that is right in front of us, that exists without our having to do a thing, except to “be.”

We are focusing this entire month in Hineni: The Mindful Heart Community on creating a meaningful Shabbat practice each week AND using the principles of pausing/resting/stopping each DAY.

Creating a Shabbat practice is WAY more than restrictions and “do not’s” (although these are often vehicles for clearing enough of the clutter out of our lives so we can be present in the now) – it’s about the holy space we can open up by being purposeful about how we spend our time.