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Object of the Month: October 2015 0 Comment(s)

Object No.: 2015.16.1
Donor: Pati Jinich
Description: Three-legged, hammered pewter salsa bowl made in Taxco, Mexico, 1950s

Pati Jinich, host of the PBS cooking show, Pati’s Mexican Table, donated her grandmother’s pewter salsa bowl to our collection this summer. Although salsa is far from a traditional Jewish food, its mixture of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices is appropriate for the blend of cultures that characterize so many members of the Washington area’s Jewish community.

Pati Jinich with JHSGW Executive Director Laura Cohen Apelbaum following an oral history interview.

Jinich’s grandparents purchased a pair of these bowls in the Mexican town of Taxco, a center of Mexican silversmithing (Jinich still owns the second bowl). The hammered pewter bowl is covered with Mexican folk-art designs and images such as Quetzacoatl, the Aztec god. “They really admired the Mexican arts; this bowl shows the bridge of what it meant to be European silversmiths in Mexico,” Jinich commented during an oral history interview with JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum.

Jinich (pronounced HEE-nich) is the granddaughter of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, was born and raised in Mexico, and came to Washington 15 years ago after a stint in Dallas. She now lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland. 

“Food has always been a gigantic part of our family,” Jinich said. “My zeide had what was like a bed and breakfast in their tiny shtetl. All they ever had to eat were potatoes and herring. They were very creative with those foods.”

Jinich’s paternal grandfather left Poland as a teenager during the early 1920s and, with the United States having severely restricted immigration, he made his way to Mexico City where he started a textile business. Her paternal grandmother arrived as a young girl a few years later with her extended family.

“They didn’t have much money, but what they had they spent on a Shabbat feast on Friday nights,” Jinich said. “They made Ashkenazi food with Mexican flavors, which quite honestly improves it. Normally, Ashkenazi foods are mild. She would make gefilte fish [red snapper instead of the European pike] in a tomato sauce, which is delicious.”

Her maternal grandfather, who established a silver business in Mexico, came from Bratislava (now in Slovakia) during World War II. Her grandmother, a seamstress, left her home near Vienna  for New York before moving to Mexico. The two had originally met in Europe and then reconnected in Mexico. Most of their families died during the Holocaust.

“My parents’ families were so different,” Jinich said. “You could tell their personalities by their food.

“My father grew up in a hard-working, lower, middle-class family,” Jinich explained. “They cooked Ashkenazi foods like potato latkes and gribenes [chicken-skin cracklings] along with Mexican foods like corn tortillas and guacamole. She made her own challah and delicious chocolate babka, which is a different sort when you make it with Mexican vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate. They enriched the food they brought [from Europe] with Mexican ingredients.”

“On my mother’s side, they were very refined,” Jinich continued. “They didn’t come from Eastern European peasants. They came from big cities. They were successful [in Mexico]. My grandmother was a phenomenal cook. She made all of the Austrian cakes, the cookies, the strudels, very elaborate dumplings, and goulash. She just made [a few] Jewish dishes like matzo ball soup. It was clear with small matzo balls with parsley and nutmeg. My bubbe’s matzo ball soup, the broth wasn’t clear. It had noodles and kreplach and gigantic matzo balls. They were both delicious, but very different styles.”

The offspring of those varied backgrounds met on vacation in Acapulco and were soon married. Jinich is the youngest of their four daughters.

“My mom grew up with a tutor for this and a tutor for that,” Jinich said.  “She spoke German and French in addition to Spanish and English. They sent her to finishing school. Then she met my dad and fell in love and [her parents] were like, ‘He doesn’t even know what an artichoke is! He’s never had a glass of wine. He doesn’t know much about classical music.’”

Jinich and her husband Danny, who grew up in Mexico City in a family that was more religiously observant than hers, met on a blind date. Her mother and his father had dated briefly.

After they were married, they agreed they would move to the U.S. for a couple of years. They cut their honeymoon short so that he could start a banking job in Dallas. While they lived in Texas, Jinich wrote her thesis on Mexican democratic institutions and consulted on a Mexican cooking show for the local PBS station while he traveled frequently. When her husband received a job offer in D.C., they visited Washington on Cherry Blossom weekend.

“Washington was so international -- there were so many things to do, the food was phenomenal, and the cherry blossoms were out,” recalled Jinich. “We thought maybe we would be here a year, but instead of moving back to Mexico, we ended up staying.”

Jinich enrolled in a graduate program at Georgetown while she was about to give birth to the second of her three sons. After obtaining her master’s in Latin American Studies, she went to work at a think tank.

“I had taken courses for cooking at home and a lot of friends asked me to teach them Mexican cooking, which I had done in Dallas,” Jinich said. “I loved cooking so much I decided to start write food articles and pitched them to magazines. I wanted to incorporate the politics and culture of my background -- more than just the recipes.”

Prodded by the Mexican Cultural Institute, Jinich secured the funding to underwrite a curriculum in Mexican cooking. Her classes were soon sold out and were written about in The Washington Post and The New York Times, which led to appearances on local television and then to her own PBS show.

“I’m doing what I was meant to be doing,” said Jinich, who has also taught Mexican-Jewish cooking classes at the Lubavitch Center. “I get a lot of emails from people looking for long-gone recipes of food that their grandmothers used to make. I feel like I’m helping build bridges and breaking myths about what Mexicans are and what Mexican food is.”

On the Occasion of Yitzhak Rabin’s 20th Yahrzeit 0 Comment(s)

Just before Yitzhak Rabin left Washington, Adas Israel Congregation honored him with the Shem Tov Award. The Congregation has presented the award annually since 1964 to members whose actions reflect the cardinal virtues of Judaism: justice, mercy, humility, and charity. Yitzhak Rabin and his wife, Leah, posed with Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz in front of the Shem Tov Award in January 1973. 

Courtesy of Adas Israel Congregation. Photograph by Mel Chamowitz.

In Memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
By Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz

Editor's Note: The fallowing eulogy, previously published in the 1995 issue of The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington’s journal, The Record, was delivered by Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz during the memorial service held at Adas Israel Congregation the evening after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral, November 6, 1995. More than 3,000 Washingtonians, Jews and non-Jews alike, attended the service. When the 1,500 seat sanctuary was filled, the crowd poured into adjoining social halls and out onto the steps of the synagogue. At the conclusion of the service, yahrzeit (memorial) candles were distributed. As the crowd stood and sang songs on the steps outside, hundreds of flames from the candles could be seen flickering in remembrance of Yitzhak Rabin. The service was organized by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington (now The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington).

This has been an incredible, emotionally draining day of mourning and tribute. The television screen has linked much of the world together in a single network as though we were one family, all tuned to the same channel in hope of finding solace, only to find the horizon dimmed by the grey tint of despondency. Even though the electronic media gave us the opportunity to enter into the hearts of a bereaved family and nation, we have come here tonight because we require a more personal form of comfort. In reciting the mourning prayers together, there is a measure of comfort.

That so many of this morning's eulogists stressed the multifaceted personality of Prime Minister Rabin only serves to illustrate the aptness of the rabbinic insight that every person has three names: one bestowed by his parents, a second name that he acquires by his own achievements in his lifetime, and a third name ascribed to him by his friends after his death. Many biographies have already delineated the noble name bestowed by his parents; his achievements have been glowingly described in the press and do not require my additions.

It would seem appropriate, however, to ponder the name history will give him; it is a persona that describes Yitzhak Rabin as a soldier, a diplomat, and a statesman. These three attributes do not do justice to his name.

As a soldier, he was a reluctant warrior; as a diplomat, he shunned pomposity and ceremony; as a statesman, he demanded not words but deeds. More accurate was the portrait depicted this morning by his granddaughter, Noa Ben Artzi, who portrayed him so movingly as a loving and sensitive grandfather, father, and husband, whose caressing hand and warm smile she will miss.

Those who knew him from his life in Washington will recall t hose attributes and mourn him as one would a friend.

Yitzhak Rabin came to Washington as his country's ambassador in 1968 after his miraculous victory in the Six Day War. We were honored that he and Leah made the Adas Israel Congregation their synagogue, though of course they were welcomed in every synagogue and church in the land.

Leah and Yitzhak's son, Yuval, this tall, handsome, and sturdy young man who recited the kaddish so movingly this morning, marked his becoming a bar mitzvah on this pulpit.

The recollection of that bar mitzvah impelled me to seek out the particular haftorah that he had chanted. It was from the prophet Zechariah and contained that marvelously prophetic line, "Blockade shall no longer exist, and Jerusalem will dwell in safety."

The year was 1968.

In September 1969, Ambassador Rabin accompanied Prime Minister Golda Meir to Adas Israel Congregation for the Bar Mitzvah of Gideon Argov, son of Shlomo Argov, an official from the Israeli Embassy and later Israel’s Ambassador to England.

Front from left: Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, Ambassador Rabin, Prime Minister Meir, and Simcha Dinitz, later Israel's Ambassador to the United States.

Courtesy of Adas Israel Congregation. Photograph by Mel Chamowitz.

Rabin was not a stranger to the synagogue, though he would complain that one reason he didn't attend more frequently was that every time he attended, he had to accept an aliyah to the Torah. The problem with that was that he insisted on reading his own Torah portion. And one day, pausing for a moment, he exclaimed, "There is a mistake here!" We had never noticed it. (We had to interrupt the service in order to bring a replacement scroll, for it is forbidden to use a defective scroll in religious worship.)

Newspapers today and yesterday wrote that Yitzhak Rabin projected a stern image: grim, unsmiling, and sometimes dour.

But as Noa testified and as his friends know, nothing could be further from the truth. He was a compassionate and sensitive person, delightfully relaxed in social settings, and given to hearty humor. What is true is that he was a serious person who did not readily reveal his feelings. What is equally true is he was an extremely humble person.

And what is also true is that he was weighed down with his concerns. As Defense Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those in his charge, and as Prime Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those missing in action, who were uppermost in his mind and who colored his interviews and public statements.

Further, not victories, but peace with his neighbors was on his mind. Recall the words of this reluctant warrior delivered on Mount Scopus after the Six-Day War:

Our victory celebrations are marred by sorrow and shock. The men in the front lines were witness not only to the glory of victory but to the price of victory: their comrades who fell beside them. The terrible price that our enemies paid touched the hearts of many of our men.

The year was 1967.

His quest for peace was not of recent vintage. In 1973 he spoke these words at a convocation at the Jewish Theological Seminary:

For 25 years we have been conducting a monologue on peace, trying very hard to transform it into a dialogue. That dialogue will yet come, of that I am convinced.

Responding to a letter challenging Israel to try harder to find a formula for peace, he responded 20 years ago:

We have sought to grasp what appeared to be a possible opening for peace, but we were quickly and brutally rebuffed. Our neighbors simply will not sit down with us. The best we hear is that peace with Israel will have to be left to the next generation. We don't accept this. We want peace now and we are ready to compromise very substantially in order to achieve it.

The date of that letter: 1975.

Leah Rabin, his wife, understood her husband best. Her heroic courage has been and continues to be an inspiration. Just a few months ago, after one of the brutal terrorist at tacks that befouled the year, she wrote a letter describing the agony and ecstasy which characterized their daily life:

Yitzhak is like the rock of Gibraltar. He doesn't lose his perspective, neither with the ecstasy nor with the agony. He just carries on, determined to reach his goal of a peace agreement.

After signing the Declaration of Intentions on September 13, 1993, Yitzhak Rabin shook the hand of PLO leader Yasser Arafat for the first time.

Courtesy of the White House. Photograph by Vince Musi.

This rock of Gibraltar bade farewell to Adas Israel when he completed his tour of duty as Ambassador. He said movingly:

I have been tendered many farewells by many groups, but none is more significant than the one that takes place in the synagogue, for I have learned that the synagogue is the heart and soul of Judaism and essential to its survival. My Jewish identity began with my first breath in Jerusalem. The encounter with the synagogue has given me a different way of living a Jewish life. It has been a rewarding experience.

This reluctant warrior captured the hearts of his listeners when he fairly pleaded at the signing ceremony at the White House:

No more war. Let there be an end to bloodshed, an end to weeping mothers, and an end to wives weeping for their husbands. Let us make true peace.

Yitzhak Rabin had both a close working relationship and a strong personal friendship with President Bill Clinton. This photograph was taken in the Oval Office, July 25, 1994.

Courtesy of the White House. Photograph by Callie Shell.

Rabin disproves a Hebrew adage comparing a person to a tree: "A giant tree is best measured only after it is cut down."

It really wasn't necessary to cut down the tree. We measured his greatness in the name he acquired in his lifetime.

Yehi Zichro Baruch.

His memory will remain an inspiration.

Rabbi Rabinowitz was Rabbi Emeritus of the Adas Israel Congregation, having served as Senior Rabbi from 1960-1986. He had served on Board of Directors of the Jewish Historical Society and authored The Assembly: A Century in the Life of the Adas Israel Hebrew Congregation of Washington. D.C., the definitive history of Adas Israel.