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An interview with the “Jewish Martha Stewart

Dubbed the “Jewish Martha Stewart,” Rita Milos Brownstein has written a beautiful book just in time for holiday entertaining and gift giving. Jewish Holiday Style (Simon & Schuster ISBN: 0684849593) is a book for the new millennium that combines tasteful table settings with family oriented craft projects. The book is also a unique guide to entertaining, showcasing sumptuous recipes and Jewish lore. Giving an elegant party is within easy reach after consulting this book.

Rita Brownstein grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and discovered her artistic inclination at an early age. True to her dream, she entered art school and graduated with a degree in graphic design. She moved to New York City after graduation andwas an associate art director for House Beautiful and Good Housekeeping magazines. After she married she moved to Connecticut where she began to free-lance. That was 10 years ago. Two years ago she got the idea for this first book. In an interview with Jewish Family & Life she said the impetus for the volume came when she realized, “there just wasn’t anything like this out there,” she said. “I wanted people to have a frame of reference for beautiful holiday entertaining even if they didn’t follow everything in the book.”

Even after extensively researching each holiday, Brownstein has trouble picking her favorite one. True to the spirit of her book, she has found something exceptional and celebratory about each holiday. A striking example of the crafts that she presents is the “Accomplishment Book-a personal collection of tangible promises that everyone writes from the heart.” The idea came from Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe of West Hartford, CT, the book’s advisor on matters pertaining to Jewish observance and history. “[Rabbi Yaffe] told me that this was an ancient tradition and I just brought it into the modern day,” said Brownstein, who has incorporated the tradition into her observance of Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement. On the eve of Yom Kippur, Brownstein places a beautifully crafted blank book and a pen at each place setting Everyone writes their resolutions, complete with specific ways to fulfill them, in the books, and has the books to refer to throughout the year. These books are beautiful and subtle reminders of private promises to be fulfilled.

Ms. Brownstein also loves Hanukkah. She said that most of the rituals she and her family share during the holiday are new to this generation. She gives her children, 11 and 14, Hanukkah gelt or moneybags (complete directions to make the bags are in the book). She has taught her children that ten-percent of the monetary gifts they receive during Hanukkah must go to charity. Each member of her family also has his or her own menorah (including the beautiful one she made that is pictured on the cover of the book). The Brownstein family displays all of their menorahs at their bay window.

Brownstein notes that she does not give her children eight gifts and the gifts she does give are small. “Hanukkah is not about gifts, but about the miracle that the holiday celebrates,” she says. The Hanukkah meal she prepares is not elaborate, and she hasn’t had a huge Hanukkah party in years. However, “Classic Potato Latkes, or pancakes ” “Root Vegetable Latkes,” and “Chocolate Pretzel Stars,” are great for a Hanukkah Party There is even a template for a paper dreidel or spinning top which is perfect for making decorations.

Another one of Brownstein’s favorite traditions is exchanging shalach manot or food packages at Purim. She admits that she gets carried away decorating baskets and bags and filling them with wonderful treats. Easy-to-follow directions to make the shalach manot bags as well as great costumes appear with a number of user-friendly recipes.

So, what kind of parties does the Jewish Martha Stewart like best? “I like small, sit down meals with close family and friends,” Brownstein said. “Bigger parties are often more stressful with everyone working. I try to set a nice table for my family, also. I think it’s important to set that tone for them, though, I admit that I do more for company than for my family, but that’s what we all do.”

With Hanukkah around the corner Brownstein said that her favorite present-to give and to receive-is books. “Books are so varied and can please anyone.” Which brings us to Jewish Holiday Style. It is the perfect gift for newlyweds, young parents or the seasoned entertainer looking for fresh ideas. Don’t be without it for the upcoming holidays.

Joni Schockett is editor of Jfood.com-a site published by the on-line magazine Jewish Family & Life! This article was originally published on www.jewishfamily.com

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