Category Archives: Worship

religious organizations and observances

Seeking the bialy: a Jewish gift

The bialy shares only a few features with its distant cousin, the bagel. Both are round and low, and both came into the world from Jewish bakers. A good and genuine bialy, however, has a thin, crisp crust with a soft, fragrant texture inside. If it seems slightly sweet, that taste comes entirely from partly caramelized fresh onions. There will be no malt, no sugars, no starches and no enzymes added to a good and genuine bialy. There is only flour, water, yeast and salt–plus toppings made from vegetables, seeds and oils. The classic bialy, originally from the city of Bialystock while it was part of czarist Russia, has lots of poppy seeds.

A good and genuine bialy takes some special care. There are many ways to cut corners, and they probably have all been found by some source one might encounter. There are always the traps of poor ingredients, sloppy technique and stale product. Beyond those, for example, attempts to produce a bialy from bagel dough simply make an inferior bagel–usually firm and heavy. Reducing water in the dough may make it easier to shape but yields a tough texture. Adding sugar or malt to speed rising or cutting out an overnight build produces bland flavor, somewhat like mass-produced bread. Adding eggs, milk or fats makes an inauthentic product. A topping made with dried instead of fresh onions will have an odd, medicinal taste, maybe suggesting a bargain-price pizza-sauce.

There are still a few small bakeries that will turn out a good and genuine bialy, often at special points of days and weeks or on special order. However, it is a difficult product to handle all the time, with a short shelf-life. The well known bakeries located in New York City are all deep into product changes that tend to help profits but pare quality. Fortunately, one can make a good and genuine bialy at home. It does not need unusual equipment or ingredients that are hard to find. If it did, neighborhoods of mostly poor Jews once living in czarist Russia would probably never have developed the bialy.

A recipe: The bialy recipe presented here uses only vegetable ingredients, so it is vegan (purely vegetarian). With kashrut, as observed in an Orthodox kitchen, and proper selection of ingredients, it can be kosher and pareve. The recipe uses techniques familiar to artisan bakers and lists all ingredients by weight, where an ounce is 28.35 grams. Measuring by weight is the method of nearly all bakeries: the only way to achieve reliable results. If one does not already have it, a digital kitchen scale that measures from 1 to 2,000 or more grams can be found for about $15 to $40 at most department and many discount stores.

To make 16 about 10 cm (4 in) diameter, 65 g (2-1/4 oz) as baked
– for the dough –
720 g unbleached strong AP flour, 4 cups unsifted
500 g water, 2 cups + 2 tsp, room temperature
12 g fine kosher salt or sea salt, 1-3/4 tsp
4 g instant yeast, 1-1/4 tsp
– for the toppings –
180 g onion, minced, 3/4 cup
10 g olive oil, 2 tsp
2 g fine kosher salt or sea salt, 5/16 tsp
10 g poppy seed, whole, 1 tbsp
– for supplies –
semolina flour for work surfaces, as needed
vegetable oil such as canola, as needed

We usually use King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose flour: kosher certified and readily available in markets throughout the northeastern United States. Made with hard winter wheat, it provides good flavor and texture. We found little if any improvement in either flavor or texture from using “bread flour” or other extra-high-gluten flours. For kneading, we use a Varimixer appliance made by Wodschow in Copenhagen. It is a labor-saver and has proven useful and reliable when baking often. When baking occasionally, however, kneading by hand works just as well. The recipe gives directions for both approaches.

Preparing a build: Flavor is improved by preparing an overnight build–also called a sponge, a pre-ferment, a “biga” for Italian bakers or a “poolish” for French bakers. During the second half of the nineteenth century, that reduced the use of baker’s yeast, a new and expensive ingredient for the period. The bialy seems to have originated as a “sweet yeast” bread. No nineteenth-century descriptions have appeared that mention “sour yeast”–wild yeast cultures widely used for breads before development in Europe of baker’s yeast from beer brewer’s yeast, between about 1750 and 1850.

In a small bowl, combine 240 g of the flour (1-1/3 cup unsifted) with 240 g of the water (1 cup) and 0.2 g of the instant yeast (1/16 tsp). Cover the bowl, and allow the build to rise about 12 to 18 hours at 20 to 21 C (68 to 70 F). Stir the build at about halfway. Use or refrigerate the build when about doubled in volume or when any shrinkage is noticed. Temperature affects rising time; a lower temperature takes longer.

Mixing, kneading, rising, shaping and proofing: Varimixer technique. Lightly oil the Varimixer bowl and hook tool and a large bowl for bulk rising. Blend the remaining 480 g flour, the remaining 260 g water and the entire build at Varimixer 0.5 for about 1-1/2 minutes until well combined and smooth. Cover the Varimixer bowl tightly, and let stand about 20 minutes. Knead at Varimixer 1.0 for 12 minutes, clearing dough off the hook at least once. Add the remaining nearly 4 g instant yeast and the salt, and blend at Varimixer 0.5 for 1 minute. Place the dough in the bowl used for rising, form it into a flattened ball and cover the bowl.

Hand technique. Lightly oil a mixing and rising bowl. Place the remaining 260 g water, the remaining nearly 4 g instant yeast and the entire build into the bowl and blend them. In stages, add the remaining 480 g flour, and mix gently with a spatula until smooth. Cover the bowl and let stand about 20 minutes. On a work surface lightly dusted with semolina flour, knead the mixed dough by folding it in half and pushing and stretching, then rotating a quarter turn and repeating. At around 20-30 cycles, taking about 10-15 minutes, the dough will become elastic and resist kneading. Gather it into a ball, put it back in the bowl and let it rest about 5 minutes. Smooth it across the work surface, sprinkle the salt evenly and knead for about 10 more cycles. Place the dough in the bowl again, form it into a flattened ball and cover the bowl.

Allow about 2 hours for bulk rise at about 25 C (77 F), folding twice at intervals of about 40 minutes. After bulk rise, working on a surface lightly dusted with semolina flour, form the dough into an even roll. Divide in half 4 times, making 16 equal rounds of about 75 g (2-5/8 oz) each. Shape each round into a disk about 6 cm (2-1/2 in) diameter. Stretch the bialy disks to about 10 cm (4 in) diameter with thin middles and thick rims, about 2 cm (3/4 in) apart on nonstick baking surfaces. Proof about 1-1/4 hour at about 25 C (77 F).

Adding toppings, baking and serving: Preheat the baking oven to 220 C (425 F). That is the maximum rated temperature for high-performance, nonstick baking trays; results are just as good as with higher temperatures. A baking stone low in the oven will help to maintain an even temperature. Cook the minced onion in the olive oil over medium heat about 15 minutes, stirring often, until translucent and lightly browned. About half the original weight of onion should remain. Blend in salt, and set aside to cool. Place poppy seeds in a small bowl or a spice dredge for dispensing.

After proofing, dock the hollows in the middles of bialy disks around their edges with a plastic fork. Spread about 6 g (1/2 tbsp) of onion mix on each bialy, mostly in the hollow but a little toward the rim. Using more onion mix or leaving onions wetter than described can make a bialy blow up and become a lump. Brush each bialy rim lightly with water, then sprinkle about 0.6 g (1/4 tsp) of poppy seeds across the top, including the hollow. Bake about 15 minutes at about 220 C (425 F) until golden brown with crisp crusts. Allow to cool about 5 minutes on an open rack, and if possible serve within a half hour. Best while warm.

Can be frozen for storage, best in a sealed plastic bag about 10 minutes after baking. Can be kept frozen for up to about a month. When ready to serve, thaw and crisp in a toaster oven about 2 minutes, or thaw about 20 seconds each in a microwave oven and crisp about 2 minutes under a broiler. Traditionally consumed whole, not sliced, often spread with butter, cream cheese or whitefish salad. Also eaten with a variety of other foods.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 1, 2017


Rebecca Kobrin, Bialystok, YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut, founded in 1925 at Wilno, Poland now Vilnius, Lithuania, today the Institute for Jewish Research, since 1940 at New York, NY), 2010

Leo Melamed (CME Group, former chair, Chicago Mercantile Exchange), There are no Jews in Bialystok, 2000

Barry Harmon, Bialy photos fresh from the oven, Artisan Bread Baking (West Valley City, UT), 2013

Bialys, pp. 262-263, in Jeffrey Hamelman, Bread, Wiley, 2004

Sarah Smith, Well-travelled food: the story of the bialy, The Garden Deli (Yorkshire, UK), April, 2015

Sylvia Carter, For many, a bialy is the bread of a lifetime, Newsday, September 6, 2000

Florence Fabricant, Kossar’s is sold and kosher, in Food Stuff, New York Times, March 11, 1998

Dylan Schaffer, Life, Death & Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story, Bloomsbury, 2006

Mimi Sheraton, The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World, Random House, 2000

Chump disease: political virus

This fall finds more cases of “Chump disease”–a political virus in the same genus as those from the late Father Charles Coughlin, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R, WI) and Gov. George Wallace (D, AL). Species of the disease organisms can be classed by their targets–for those species: Jews, Communists and African-Americans. Traces of a recent outbreak of a related disease can be found in remains of the Pea Potty.

Chump disease has been multivalent, provoking attacks on women, African-Americans, Mexicans, Muslims and Jews. Acute onset tends to be accompanied by bloviating from which a few words tumble, including “fat,” “ugly,” “crooked,” “lyin’,” “crazy” and “little.” Disease carriers are urged against the targets. Writing in the Washington Post October 1, Stephanie McCrummen profiled the behaviors of a disease carrier: “Someone who thinks like me.”

Origins of Chump disease extend far back into the Years of Slavery. Former Presidential diseases in this genus included those from Jackson, who treated the federal government like his private farm, and from Polk, who bought and sold slaves at his desk in the Oval Office–both virulent racists hailing from Tennessee.

Michael Finnegan and Evan Halper wrote warnings this August in the Los Angeles Times: “Trump says ’2nd Amendment people’ can keep Clinton from naming justices” and “Virus spreads to Presidential politics.” Mr. Halper was writing about a biological virus–one that sometimes causes lasting nerve damage–but it suggests a metaphor for Nazis. The Chump was reported to keep a copy of Hitler’s speeches in his bedroom.

The Chump’s emotional awareness looks to have frozen at around age four, before he might have learned to share. His language seems to have stalled a few years later–leaving him barely able to produce a full sentence, let alone a paragraph. “I guess, right? Right? I guess. Right?” Now he’s a freak: a frightened child hiding inside an aging person.

Recently the Chump has been getting more of the treatment he deserves from mainstream media: ignoring his tantrums as circus sideshows. Zombies still wave and clap for him, but they are due a surprise, once they look around. At a fork in a road, many of their neighbors went another way.

When the Chump verged from freak show to center ring, he was badly exposed. He had neither training nor experience. In the newer environment, he is wildly outclassed. Exiting the first Presidential debate of 2016, he seemed flustered yet unaware of how thoroughly and skillfully he had been skewered. Soon he was venting over a former beauty queen, whom he helped to crown two decades earlier.

The next evening, as wounds from his thrashing began to burn, he dropped “Secretary Clinton” and relapsed into “Crooked Hillary.” As though on cue, his claque of would-be brown-shirts screamed, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” A few weeks from now, he’ll rest in a memory heap–somewhere far beneath Jennings Bryan, the Cross of Gold candidate from 1896 who, at age 36, could indeed produce complete sentences.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 2, 2016


Jenna Johnson, Trump urges supporters to monitor polling places in ‘certain areas’, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

Stephanie McCrummen, Finally: someone who thinks like me, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

James Hohmann and Breanne Deppisch, Trump stumbles into Clinton’s trap by feuding with Latina beauty queen, Washington Post, September 28, 2016

Jenna Johnson, At Florida rally, Trump resumes attacking ‘crooked Hillary Clinton’, Washington Post, September 27, 2016

Paul H, Jossey, How we killed the Tea Party, Politico, August 18, 2016

Michael Finnegan, Donald Trump says ’2nd Amendment people’ can prevent Hillary Clinton from choosing judges, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2016

Evan Halper, Zika virus spreads to Presidential politics, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2016

Martin Pengelly, American Nazi Party leader sees ‘a real opportunity’ with a Trump Presidency, Manchester Guardian (UK), August 7, 2016

Thomas Beaumont, Associated Press, Charting a road to 270, Clinton sets out most efficient path, WTOP (Washington, DC), August 6, 2016

Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press, Fact check: Trump’s Iranian propaganda video a concoction, WTOP (Washington, DC), August 4, 2016

Jonathan Mahler and Matt Flegenheimer, What Donald Trump learned from Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man, New York Times, June 21, 2016

Holocaust Encyclopedia, Charles E. Coughlin, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, June, 2016

Ibram X. Kendi, The eleven most racist U.S. Presidents, Huffington Post, May, 2016

Debbie Elliot, Is Donald Trump a modern-day George Wallace?, (U.S.) National Public Radio, April, 2016

Joyce Oh and Amanda Latham, Senator Joseph McCarthy, McCarthyism and the Witch Hunt, Cold War Museum, 2008

Marie Brenner, After the Gold Rush, Vanity Fair, 1990

Richard Kreitner, William Jennings Bryan delivers Cross of Gold speech, The Nation, 2015 and 1896

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 2 returns as anti-Semite, Brookline Beacon, July 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3, plain vanilla creep, Brookline Beacon, June 16, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3 sounds like No. 2, Brookline Beacon, June 11, 2016

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development

On Wednesday evening, July 8, representatives of the Kehillath Israel congregation announced at a public meeting held at the site that they were starting real estate development, in two parts. Part 1 renovates the synagogue building, dedicated in 1925, and adds about 10,000 square feet of support space on the north side. Part 2 builds an undisclosed amount of partly subsidized new housing, replacing the community center opened in 1948 and using Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning.

Rabbi William Hamilton opened the meeting, saying the congregation was planning for a next century. The membership has shrunk from a peak of around 1,200 families in the 1950s to around 400 now. He introduced Joseph Geller, a landscape architect and developer, member of the congregation, Precinct 9 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, who led most of the discussions.

Mr. Geller introduced Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a local real estate lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen with whom Mr. Geller served. Mr. Allen is representing the congregation’s legal interests in development plans. Asked about potential disruptions from pursuing development while nearby Devotion School is being rebuilt, Mr. Allen merely said it could be “a problem.”

According to Alison Steinfeld, Brookline’s director of community planning and development, about a year ago Mr. Allen met with members of the department for an initial discussion. Ms. Steinfeld said she did not know the amounts of housing Kehillath Israel might have in mind. Such a discussion, as well as such a meeting as happened July 8, are among steps in Brookline’s design review process for any development on Harvard St.

Location, location: Stories about a potential large housing development have circulated around nearby neighborhoods for many months, with a wide range of speculation about locations, amounts, sizes and heights. The presentation on July 8 settled only location: space now occupied by the community center, which representatives of the congregation called the “Epstein building.”

The current community center’s building outline is about 120 by 65 feet, plus a depth of about 30 feet for front entry and steps. If there were to be no further incursions past those perimeters, that could provide a gross area near 10,000 square feet per floor. A modern 4-story building, similar in overall height to the community center, might house around 40 medium-size apartments.

North Brookline neighborhoods have had two previous experiences with 40B developments. A private developer near the synagogue substantially scaled back initial plans and built a double wood-frame quadruplex at 107A through 113B Centre St. in the late 1990s, replacing a large house. Occupancy of these condominium units has proven fairly transient, with turnovers every several years.

After about seven years of disputes and negotiations, the development arm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston scaled back initial plans for the former St. Aidan’s Church by about 60 percent and put up mostly modern, fireproof new construction around 2008. However, adaptive reuse, unprecedented for the Archdiocese, placed several apartments inside the historic church structure and preserved the large courtyard at the corner of Pleasant and Freeman Sts. and its huge copper beech tree.

Senior housing: Mr. Geller said Kehillath Israel was planning “senior housing”–favorable for a community in which escalating costs of public schools have been driving up budgets, leading to tax overrides passed this year and in 2008. While age-restricted housing is clearly a form of discrimination, under some conditions it is allowed by laws and regulations.

Massachusetts has had antidiscrimination housing laws for many years. They were partly subsumed by the federal Fair Housing Act, Title 8 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (PL 90-284). The original version of the law prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in the sale and rental of dwellings. Other protected categories have been added.

Section 4 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, “Unlawful Discrimination,” prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, children, handicap and receipt of public assistance or housing subsidy in the selling, renting or leasing of housing accommodations, commercial space or land intended for those uses. Fines are up to $50,000 per violation. Massachusetts regulations in 804 CMR 02 implement the law.

One of the few general exceptions in housing discrimination laws has allowed, after 1988, qualified “senior housing” developments, as modified under the federal Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (PL 104–76). Such a qualification requires 80 percent of dwellings to be occupied by at least one person who is 55 years of age or older. The federal qualification can be lost if that operating status is not maintained.

The Kehillath Israel congregation would almost surely be able to qualify a development as “senior housing.” Asked how the congregation might guarantee that “senior housing” will continue to qualify and operate that way, Mr. Geller said he expected there would be a continuing agreement with the Town of Brookline. By contrast, the management at Hancock Village in south Brookline has been moving away from “senior housing,” actively marketing to mostly foreign families with children. They are not planning “senior housing” as a part of their current Chapter 40B housing project in Brookline.

When a religious organization sponsors housing, some assume members and affiliates of the organization will become occupants or may be favored. Occupants of new housing at the Kehillath Israel site need not be Jewish or otherwise share some background that might tend to exclude people protected against discrimination. During controversy over redevelopment of the former St. Aidan’s Church, at least some former parishioners seemed convinced they would be favored to occupy new apartments there. Since that did not agree with housing laws and regulations, it did not happen.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 9, 2015


Fair housing regulation, Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015