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Learning About Purim Through Hamantaschen

On Thursday, February 18, Michael Miller, executive VP/CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council-NY, invited eight state assembly members, each representing a downstate county, to a virtual hamantaschen-tasting. Assemblymembers Kimberly Jean-Pierre (Suffolk), Taylor Darling (Nassau), Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn (Brooklyn), Al Taylor (Manhattan), Victor Pichardo (Bronx), Charles Fall (Staten Island) and Nader Sayegh (Westchester) joined newcomer Jenifer Rajkumar (Queens).

The program also included a Purim-themed quiz. Viewers played side-by-side with these non-Jewish legislators via a Zoom poll. Miller gave detailed explanations of the answers. After asking why hamantaschen are triangular, Miller related that 15th-century Germans ate pastry called mohntaschen. Mohn are poppies and a “tash” is a pocket. With a Haman-inspired shape and name, the poppy-filled tradition arose.

The members were asked to smell and then taste each of five hamantaschen flavors. First up was “mon,” or poppyseed. Offering reactions, Bichotte-Hermelyn stated, “They remind me of the octagon cookies, the little red ones that are sticky in the middle, or a little like a fig newton; it is delicious, not sweet and not too many calories.”

Sayegh remarked, “Delicious; it has a nice crunch, but at the same time taste was subtle. Poppies, of course, always have a distinct taste to them. They are the opposite of raspberries. It reminds me of the old days, going to the old Nathan’s Famous, where they had a great bakery.”

Taylor stated, “It kinda reminds me of a sugar cookie, a little bit thicker, I should have sat down with milk instead of water.”

The second round were raspberry. Jean-Pierre started the feedback: “I liked the poppyseed better, this was OK.”

Sayegh remarked, “This is similar to the poppy in terms of its texture, but it’s almost like caviar, red or black. It has the same texture. but it’s a little sweeter.”

Rajkumar noted, “I think I might actually like this one better than the other; brought back memories of morning toast with jam on it.”

Taylor exclaimed, “Jennifer nailed it; it‘s a Monday morning Pop Tart.”

Pichardo offered, “I’m not as sophisticated as Nader’s diverse palette in terms of caviar, but I am with Kim. I do like the poppyseed better.”

Darling said, “I liked it a lot better than the licorice feel of the previous one.”

Moving to nontraditional hamantaschen, the group tasted the chocolate.

Miller revealed, “I am a chocoholic.”

Darling expressed, “You can’t go wrong with chocolate.”

Pichardo noted, “It’s beating out poppyseed for me at the moment.”

Sayegh stated, “We have chocolate all the time. It wasn’t the same experience as poppy.”

Rajkumar revealed, “I rely on chocolate to get by.”

Jean Pierre said that chocolate was now her favorite; “I would like it with coffee.” Fall was not a fan; he said it made his mouth dry.

The two special flavors were based on Caribbean alcoholic drinks: pina colada and mojito.

Rajkumar noted, “This one had some spunk to it. You tasted it, and then you tasted it a little bit more. It was good, but I think the traditional ones won my heart.”

Bichotte-Hermelyn added, “It tasted like macaroons.”

Fall enjoyed the pina colada, while Pichardo realized “how much I missed the beach,” as did Darling.

The last hamantaschen flavor to be tasted was mojito.

Taylor exclaimed, “These are banging; fireworks in my mouth.”

Fall said he was speechless.

Bichotte-Hermelyn noted, “It was definitely different, reminded me of Girl Scout mint cookies.”

While most contestants knew Shushan was in modern-day Iran, only two members knew that there is a Shushan, New York, 45 miles northeast of Albany, in Washington County.

Perhaps the toughest question was where in New York’s capital are the most hamantaschen. Many answered, “Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein’s office.” Eichentstein is the first chasid elected to the Assembly. Only Al Taylor correctly knew that it is the huge kosher bakery at Price Chopper in the Albany suburb of Colonie.

By Judy Berger


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