Category: Travel

Budapest!

Shoes on the Danube Holocaust Memorial

BUDAPEST

Budapest was never really on my must-see list, to be honest, but for the past few months, I had been hearing miracle stories about the holy tzaddik, Reb Shayele of Kerestir. His great-grandaughter, Chaya Suri of Spice & Zest had shared about her trip to his gravesite in the Tokaj region of Hungary with me and I was intrigued. So on a whim, I posted on my Instagram story one day, “Anyone here from Budapest”? Not 10 minutes later, I received a DM from Sophie Bassman, who along with her husband Tzemi and their adorable baby, run the CTeen program for young Jewish teens in Hungary. Sophie is the absolute sweetest and she encouraged me to come for Rosh Hashanah to experience the 10-person choir in the 200-year old shul in her community.

I happened to be free for Rosh Hashanah so I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it! Sophie put me in touch with Avi Klein, a longtime resident of Budapest with an immense knowledge of Jewish history and culture in the region. Avi helped plan my itinerary, and three of my girlfriends decided to hop along for the ride!

View of the city from the Museum in Mad

THE PLAN:

THURSDAY: arrive in Budapest, drive to Kerestir to Reb Shayale’s gravesite, visit the surrounding area
FRIDAY: tour of Budapest with Sophie and a tour guide
SHABBAT: stay in Obuda
SATURDAY NIGHT: the Castle District
SUNDAY: Szentendre
MONDAY-TUESDAY: Rosh Hashanah in central Budapest
WEDNESDAY: Return Home

Winery in Mad in the Tokaj region

KERESTIR

Avi picked us up from the airport and we began our journey to Kerestir (a 2 1/2 hour drive) as he shared with us stories about Jewish life in Budapest. As we neared Tokaj, the wine region of Northern Hungary, the view was breathtaking. We stopped in the city of Mad, which is filled with wineries, many of which used to be Jewish homes. We visited the 250 year old synagogue followed by the museum, right outside the synagogue, which is filled with historical artifacts. There is a hotel above the museum where you can stay if you are visiting. The views from the area are absolutely magical!

Synagogue in Mad

We then stopped by the gravesite of the Kol Aryeh, and the Jewish cemetery, which sits amongst the most beautiful vineyards.

We continued on to Reb Shayele’s house, the actual home of Reb Shayele, which now acts as a guest house for those visiting, offering food, accommodations, Shabbat meals, an active synagogue and mikvah.

Reb Shayele, Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner, served as the Rabbi of Kerestir from the end of the 19th century until his death in 1925. He was known for his great hospitality and charity. The “Malva Malka” meal, held on the eve of Shabbat, was always a large affair. They continue that tradition today, where a feast is held every Motzei Shabbat.

The operation in Reb Shayele’s house is impressive – you can visit Reb Shayele’s original kitchen where he baked challahs and the expansive kitchen (they are currently building an even larger one!) where they prep meals for visitors around the clock, continuing in the tradition of Reb Shayele.

We prayed in the study where Reb Shayele met with people and gave them blessings and heard the shofar in the synagogue next door. And then we sat down to a beautiful meal that was served to us in the dining room upstairs. Finally, we were off to Reb Shayele’s resting place, just a short drive from the house. We were greeted with Jews of many different denominations dancing together, it was a beautiful scene and a spiritually uplifting experience.

They say that when you ask Reb Shayele for something, you must return back to say thank you when it comes true, so I hope to be back soon!

Jewish Cemetary overlooking the vineyards in Mad

Places to stay in Kerestir:

If you are considering visiting Kerestir, there are both Reb Shayele’s House (Rubin) and Reb Shayele’s Guest House (Friedlander) which offer meals, accommodations, a synagogue and mikvah. For a truly unique upscale experience, stay at Reb Shayele’s Hotel which boasts a jacuzzi, outdoor oven, wine cellar, luxurious and modern accommodations with a kosher kitchen, they even have a sauna!

Gravesite of Reb Shayale of Kerestir

BUDAPEST

Separated by the Danube River, Buda and Pest form the two halves of Hungary’s capital, linked by the famous Chain Bridge since 1849, forming Budapest. Buda is the quieter, more residential side of the city and Pest is more of a tourist destination. For Shabbat, we stayed in Óbuda (literally Old Buda), the oldest part of the city, where Sophie lives (her apartment overlooks a Roman colosseum!). The Romans built their capital, Aquincum in Óbuda, and we actually stayed at the Aquincum Hotel (it comes from the word aqua, in honor of the numerous thermal springs that Budapest is so famous for). While the hotel itself is nothing to write home about, the thermal baths downstairs, along with the sauna and steam rooms are absolutely incredible.

The Aquincum is literally next door to the Óbuda synagogue, a 200 year old shul that was restored 12 years ago by Chabad of Budapest. It had been used as a news station by the Nazis.

The Óbuda Synagogue

After settling in to our hotel, Sophie took us on a little walk through the neighborhood and then to have breakfast at Brooklyn Bagel, a cute kosher bagel shop that is housed in a magnificent Chabad house in the city. From there, we headed to the parliament, one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest, followed by the Shoes by the Danube holocaust memorial at the Danube River. The memorial was one of the most poignant ones I’ve ever visited, in memory of the 20,000 Jews who were shot along the Danube River. The Nazi’s used to tie groups of Jews together, so they could save on bullets, and they would shoot one, causing them to all drown together.

We then met with our tour guide, Benjamin Keszler, at the Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and the third largest in the world! Benjamin shared a lot of Hungary’s Jewish history with us as we explored the the stunning shul, the burial grounds right outside the shul, where 2771 bodies had been dumped in a mass grave by the Nazi’s as well as the many memorial structures around the area. We then walked around the Jewish Ghetto, stopping by several sculptures and historical spots in the neighborhood.

The Dohany Synagogue

Over Shabbat, we were lucky enough to spend time with Rabbi Koves, the fascinating Hungarian Chabad Rabbi who has made it his life’s mission to reclaim all the synagogues in the area and restore them. We had meals at the Óbuda shul, where everyone was so welcoming and the food was delicious!

On Saturday night, we headed to the Castle District and Fisherman’s Bastion which is famous for its Medieval, Baroque, and Neoclassical houses, churches, public buildings, and monuments that date back to the Middle Ages. They are in the process of excavating the site of the synagogue of Buda there that was built in 1461! You can also find Houdini’s house in the area (did you know he was Jewish? His name was Arik Weiss!).

Fisherman’s Bastion

After the castle, we headed for some drinks to 360° rooftop bar, followed by a trip to the popular bathhouse Szechenyi, because the bathhouse experience is a must if you’re visiting. Just don’t go on Saturday night, trust me. You’re welcome!

We finished our night at Gozsdu Udvar, which is the main hangout area in the city (ironically found in the Jewish Ghetto) filled with gastropubs, bars and lots and lots of karaoke joints!

Street in Szentendre

SZENTENDRE

After settling in to our beautiful Prestige hotel in central Budapest, we took a Bolt (Uber) to the artist colony of Szentendre. It was a rainy day, but nothing could put a damper on the cute and colorful town on the banks of the Danube. The town features many unique little shops, where I picked up the cutest gifts for my kids (I even found an apron with a goulash recipe written in Hebrew!) as well as the world’s smallest synagogue! We visited an award-winning potter, many lavender stores (the Tihany lavender fields are a popular Budapest destination), handmade jewelry shops, toys, trinkets and more!

ROSH HASHANAH IN BUDAPEST

It’s hard to put it into words, but the Jewish New Year in Budapest was a truly special and inspiring experience. It all felt so divinely orchestrated – where the holiday took us, the people we met and the places we visited.

On the first night of the holiday, we joined Rabbi Raskin of Keren Or Chabad for his festive holiday dinner at the Marriott hotel. It was filled with over 1000 Jews from around the world, mostly Israelis. At our table, there was a French businessman who had come in for work that morning, and an Israeli family on vacation. At the table next to us, sat a group of secular Israelis with mohawks and tattoos. Everyone was greeted with love and open arms, and we all did the seder simanim together and sang songs in Hebrew. It was so special and meaningful to be a part of it and to see the amazing work of Chabad, knowing that most of the people there would not have celebrated the holiday if not for them.

To me, it was a reminder that A JEW IS A JEW IS A JEW. When the Nazi’s rounded up the Jews on the banks of the Danube, they didn’t care how religious they were, or what sect of Judaism they belonged to. And being in that room, you could feel the Jewish pride and unity.

Shoes on the Danube Memorial

For the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we walked all the way back to Óbuda , an hour and 15 minutes each way, to experience the 10 person choir that Sophie had told me about and boy was it worth it! To be praying in a historical synagogue, with the most soul-stirring songs of prayer echoing around us, was truly special. I began to cry, and an old lady sitting next to me came over and gave me a hug. She told me how her grandmother had died in Auschwitz, and how she had no family left. “Don’t cry”, she said, “everything is going to be ok.”

On our walk back to Budapest, we stopped at the Shoes on the Danube memorial to do tashlich. What a touching experience!

The second night of Rosh Hashanah, we went to the Pesti Shteebel, with Rabbi Oirechman, who set up beautiful tent outside the small shul that had been vacant for 50 years! When they opened it, they found an open newspaper and a pair of glasses just sitting there. We heard a first person account from someone who had been raised as a catholic only to find that he was Jewish when his mother left her passport on the table and he saw a Jewish name. For years he refused to acknowledge his Jewish identity and he would go to the synagogue but leave whenever the Rabbi started to speak. One day, someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked him, why do you leave? He answered, I have 6 million reasons! And the man responded, Hitler is smiling right now. Right then and there, the man decided to become a practicing Jew. He runs the organization in Hungary that cares for holocaust survivors.

After an inspiring dinner, we headed to the Dessewffy synagogue, a small shteebel that is over 250 years old and hosts a karliner congregation.

Stumbling Stones, memorials marking the homes of Jews who perished in the holocaust

The 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, we went shul hopping, starting off at the magnificent Rumbach shul, which was converted by the Nazis to their radio station headquarters but later restored. Just as we were walking in, the small group (just over a minyan!) was starting Avinu Malkeinu. We got a chance to kiss the Torah and pray with the grateful congregation. After that, we headed to the breathtaking Kazinczy shul which the Nazis converted into horse stables but was later restored. Just as we walked in, they began the blessing for blowing the shofar! We stayed for the shofar blowing in the mostly empty synagogue, taking in it’s beauty and Moorish design.

We finished our tour and prayers at Keren Or, where we joined Rabbi Raskin for the final holiday meal.

After the holiday, Avi took us for one last tour of the city, stopping at different memorials as well as the Anantara New York Palace hotel, where Titanic was filmed. We finished our tour back in the Jewish Ghetto, at Kazinczy street, where we checked out some of the Hungarian street food vendors at Karavan. Of course it wasn’t kosher, but it was interesting to see the different types of Hungarian food, including Goulash, of course!, Chimney Cakes (Kürtőskalács!) and Lángos!

Karavan, local food trucks serving Hungarian classics

The next morning, we headed to the airport, stopping just 10 minutes away at the gravesite of the holy tzaddik and Rabbi of Budapest for over 50 years, Rabbi Shimon Oppenheim (he lived to be over 100!).

While I only got to see a fraction of Budapest and it’s surrounding areas, I’m so grateful for the deeply inspiring and beautiful experience I had there over the holidays. If you love Jewish history and culture, it is definitely a worthwhile visit!

If you have some time, I would definitely recommend visiting Slovakia, which is very close by, as well as Vienna, just a short train ride away.

The Parliament

TRAVEL INFORMATION:

If you’re looking for help planning your Budapest trip, or visiting Kerestir, or you’d like to stay at Reb Shayele’s Hotel, contact Avi Klein +972 52-720-0300 or DM @reb_shayeles_kerestir

Kosher in Budapest:

Brooklyn Bagel, dairy, Újpesti rkp. 1 · In Zsilip Synagogue
Tel Aviv Cafe, dairy, Kazinczy u. 28
Hanna, meat, traditional Hungarian, Kazinczy u. 29
Carmel, meat, Middle Eastern, Kazinczy u. 31
Hamsa, new high-end restaurant 2 hours away, Debrecen, Piac u. 5-7, 4025 Hungary
Kosher market, very well stocked with dairy, meat, bread, and imported packaged goods, Kazinczy u. 28

Shabbat meals at Keren Or Chabad can be reserved at the Chabad House here.

How to get around:

There is Uber in Budapest – it’s called Bolt. Just download the app, it’s really easy!

Money:

You would be surprised but many vendors did not take credit card, so make sure to exchange money at the airport and have it on hand with you.

The Castle District

Some Main Attractions to Visit:

The Parliament
The Castle District
Fisherman’s Bastion
Budapest Eye
Széchenyi Thermal Bath or Gellért Spa
Margaret Island
The Opera House
Shoes on the Danube Memorial
A few of the grand synagogues (Dohany, Rumbach, Kazinczy)

Summer Scenes + Pack-and-Go Recipes


One of the perks of being a food blogger, is getting to really know my camera, and over the years my photography has steadily improved. Once you understand the basic principles of photography, you can take pictures anywhere, and of anything. I only shoot in manual mode and my favorite thing to shoot is MY KIDS. Every time the season changes, it’s like a whole new backdrop to take beautiful family photos. Here are some summer scenes for 2015.






This post may be dedicated to family but we still gotta eat, even at the beach! So, here’s a little roundup of the best BIB pack-and-go recipes, great for family trips to the beach, the park or anywhere on-the-go!

hummus with pita chips
yogurt parfaits with homemade granola
chili pie in jars
quinoa burgers
pesto chicken salad (add tomatoes and avocado to the chicken recipe)
curried chicken salad
sushi salad
tuna pasta salad
salmon pasta salad
roasted chickpeas
roasted edamame

What are you favorite on-the-go recipes and ideas? Share them with me in the comments below!

Other Summer Attractions:

Bushkill Falls
Governor’s Island
Kelder’s Farm 
Hershey, PA

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Passover in Aspen


If you follow me on Instagram, you probably noticed where I ended up for Passover…Aspen, Colorado. I’m still pinching myself as I unpack my suitcases.

It was a week before Pesach, my upstairs was cleaned, and I was stressed. I’ve never made Pesach in my life. The kids were off of school, I had to shop for everything, and I had to tackle the kitchen and playroom. Dear G-d. I was kvetching to my mom, who was headed for Aspen as one of the guest speakers on the Prime Experience Program. Lets just say, a couple of hours later, she had pulled some strings and my family and I were headed to ski country! We booked our tickets faster than you can say “I have no idea how to ski!” and the rest is history!


I can never thank my mom enough for the unbelievable experience of Pesach in Aspen. We had the most amazing time relaxing, making new friends, taking in the most beautiful scenery and enjoying delicious Kosher for Passover food. The elaborate smorgasbords of salads, fruits, crudities, cheese, charcuterie and pastries spanned breakfast, lunch and dinner for a full 10 days. It’s no wonder I’ve hopped on the South Beach Diet train the minute I got back! I’ve never eaten so much in my life!


Luckily, there was a lot to take in around the city, so we explored the beautiful views on foot. Hiking the Rio Grande Trail, visiting Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and going 11,212 feet up on Aspen Mountain. And no, I did NOT go skiing. I’ve got four kids and I’d rather not hit a tree head on while I speed down a mountain uncontrollably (ok, I’m a chicken, I admit it!).


This was my first time on a Passover program, and I totally get the hype. You get to send your kids to daycamp, chill by the pool (I’ve never sat by a pool with evergreens and snow in view!), and enjoy lavish meals that someone else prepared. What can be wrong with that?! Well, to be honest, I have to say, that while the program was the vacation of my dreams, it wasn’t the beautiful family-oriented Passover of my youth. It was fun, relaxing and delicious but it lacked soul. Even with all the hard work and prep, there is so much beauty in a homemade Passover, and I look forward to giving it to my kids one day.


That’s not to say that if I have the opportunity to head to an exotic island for the holiday, I won’t take it up. Are you hearing me KMR, Kosherica, Prime, VIP Ram??? I won’t say no if you invite me!!


I love to travel, and if I ever have the opportunity to visit a place I’ve never been to, I jump on it. When I walked around Aspen, I couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous view, and everywhere I went, I just kept drinking it all in. I can’t believe that I’ve lived in the U.S.A. my entire life and I never knew that such a beautiful place existed just a couple of hours (planeride) away. Forget Europe and The Islands, we’ve got a goldmine right here in this country! It really made me realize that I’ve got to start exploring more of the States. Maybe even drive cross country in a mobile home (I’m pushing it now, aren’t I?).


Now that I’ve learned to take semi-professional pictures, I love to put together a family photoshoot with the beautiful surroundings. I took the most incredible photos of my kids with the most breathtaking scenery that I will treasure for a lifetime. I mean, how can you beat this?

I thought I’d seen it all until we hiked the Rio Grande Trail. O.M.G. Can I go back now?!


Photos along The John Denver Sanctuary, with poetry inscribed in the rocks….


And the drive along the Colorado River to Denver, wow! The red mountains, the beautiful land at every turn, it was beyond!


I’m so very thankful to have enjoyed Passover in Aspen. I have a newfound appreciation for this country and I can’t wait to explore more of it (hey hubby, are you listening?!)!


Have you ever been to a Passover program? How did you like it? Share with me in the comments below!

And don’t you worry, BIB is back next week with lots of new healthy and exciting recipes!

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Bushkill Falls + a Week of Crockpot Dinners

While many people in my community go upstate for the summer, I usually spend my summers in the city. I relish the quiet streets, Sunday farmer’s markets and the plethora of parking spaces that are suddenly available around the hood. I’ve done the country thing once or twice, and maybe I’ll do it again – but for now, I’m more than happy to spend time enjoying my neighborhood – especially with a mild summer like this.

To break up the summer, we usually take a few trips to some of our favorite places, like Hershey Park, Governor’s Island, and Kelder’s Farm.  This year, we headed up to the Poconos to load up on the sweet smell of grass – something we don’t get to experience much living in Brooklyn.

We stayed at The Villas at Tree Tops, an oasis of beautiful trees and greenery as far as the eye can see. The vacation village is packed with every imaginable activity – from ziplining to tubing and bumper boats, mini (and regular) golfing to horseback riding, as well as several indoor and outdoor pools and an activity center.

Just minutes away from The Villas, is Bushkill Falls, the Niagra of Pennsylvania. We’d never gone hiking with our kids before, so we were excited to take a walk high in the uplands of the Pocono Mountains, surrounded by streams of crystal waters and primeval rock.

We hiked along the “yellow” path, a popular route that takes 45 minutes roundtrip. There were lots of steps, but my kids trudged along like real troopers, basking in the beautiful greenery surrounding them.

The yellow path gave us severeal views of the waterfalls including the Main Falls, as well as Lower Gorge Falls, Laurel Glen and Upper Canyon.

After hiking, we ate lunch along the beautiful lake, and moved on to the playground. We visited the gift shops, checked out the mini golf course, and went paddle boating. We attempted to do the Mining Maze but the kids were spent!

With so many activities, Bushkill Falls can easily be a whole day trip – just be sure to pack along lunch and lots of water. If you don’t keep kosher, there are plenty of food options there, so come hungry!

For those who do keep kosher, Bushkills Falls and it’s neighboring area, do not have any kosher restaurants. The local supermarkets, like PriceChopper, have lots of kosher options, including a gluten free section with some great snacks. However, if you plan on staying for a day or two, you need to plan for breakfast, lunch and dinners.

Although The Villas included a nonkosher kitchen, which I could have koshered, I preferred to bring along my crockpot so I could spend the day outside, not having to worry about making dinner later on. Each evening, we entered our villa to the delicious smell of a hot supper, simmering away in the crockpot. My kids gobbled up their hot meals, and my husband decided it’s time for a slow cooker ebook!

Yes, my crockpot dinners, were THAT good, and I’m including them all here for you to enjoy! There’s just a short time left to relish the joy of summer, so go ahead and put up a slow cooked meal, and spend the day basking in the sunshine!

Other slow cooker recipes:

crockpot mushroom barley stoup
blogoversary BBQ brisket

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Governor’s Island

It’s been a while since my last post about a fun family getaway. In fact, I haven’t shared anything with you since last year’s post on Kelder’s Farm (which I still highly recommend!)

On a recent Sunday in Brooklyn, my family and I decided to head over to Governor’s Island for a day of family fun. We had been there previously, so we knew just what to expect – interesting exhibits, fun activities and great time for the whole family. I grabbed my SLR so I could snap and share photos of my experience with you.

Governor’s Island,  a 172 acre island in the heart of New York Harbor, was once home to the US army and coast guard. Many of it’s historic houses and buildings have remained intact since the 19th century. Just 400 yards from the Brooklyn waterfront, the island is accessible via ferry from Pier 6 (at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Columbia Street.)

After a fun ride on the ferry, you’ll arrive at the the Island where you can pick up a map and a schedule of the day’s activities from the information center.

A quick look at the map will show you that most of Governor’s Island is actually under construction, with amazing things in the works. You can read more about that here.

Still, there is still so much to do! At the Island’s center is Nolan park, a hub of fun activity for kids of all ages.

My kids couldn’t wait to climb the adorable hand-painted tree house, with little hiding spaces, and a slide. Doesn’t every little kid dream about having their own little tree house?

Your kids can also enjoy a game of mini golf, with an amazing artist-designed golf course. Each golf hole is another unique experience with imaginative and innovative design.

Here’s just one example of the colorful and fun designs incorporated into each and every hole.

Your kids will probably be hungry by now, so it’s a great idea to pack a picnic basket full of goodies, which is just what we did! On our menu: fresh pita or whole grain rolls with tuna or hummus, sliced peppers and grape tomatoes. For dessert: fresh fruit, homemade smores cookies and mini bags of popcorn. Don’t forget to stay hyrdrated! We brought along lots of water bottles and juice boxes.

After lunch, it’s time to explore some of the unique structures in Nolan park like this interesting “tunnel” or cloud.

If you look closely, you’ll see that it’s actually made up of recycled milk jugs and water bottles!

There are lots of other fun and interesting projects to see, designed by FIGMENT.

Like these stationary bouncing ball. They were one of my kids favorite areas, I couldn’t get them away!

And of course there’s the natural beauty, like this blackberry tree that stood humbly among the brightly colored fixtures all around.

After an exciting time at Nolan park, it’s time to experience some more of the Island on a family bike!

You can also stop by one of the many exhibits held in yellow colonial houses. The exhibits are constantly changing. You can view Governor’s Island’s calendar here for the current ones.

If you’re ready for a snack, there’s always a line-up of food trucks on the Island with an array of interesting food and drink.

Thanks for joining me on my tour of Governor’s Island. It’s a great place to get Busy In Brooklyn!

Governor’s Island is open from 10 AM – 7 PM every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday Monday (Memorial Day and Labor Day) through September 29.

Fore more info, visit GovIsland.com.

Other BIB getaway reviews:

Hershey, PA
Miami Beach, FL
Kelder’s Farm, Upstate, NY

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