A Time to Mourn and to Comfort: A Recipe for Lentil Soup

A soup that reminds us how small we are in the scheme of the Universe. A soup that reminds us that life is a cycle and that we must go on, no matter that our hearts are completely shattered.

Since the savage attacks targeting our brothers and sisters in Israel, we have all cried and we have all tried to comprehend. We have held our breath and we have prayed, in private and in our synagogues. We have all watched the news and read every article and scrolled social media. We have tried to do our tiny bit to help support Israel, through donations and through rallies and marches. 

I worry and (I have wept) when I think about my daughter Alexandra, who is in seminary in Jerusalem. All my cousins have children who have been called up. Eliyahu, 20 years old, grew up in South Africa but chose to join Sayeret Tzanhanim, the elite paratrooper unit. Etai, 30, is a reservist who has been called up. In 2014, he served in the Golani unit that invaded Gaza and he lost many of his brothers in arms. This time around, he leaves his wife, and his two little boys at home. His younger sister Noa, 22, served in the Israeli Air Force for 4 years. She was on her post-Army trip, visiting India and Thailand. She flew home and is ready to rejoin the soldiers on her base. 

I worry about all my other cousin’s children who have been called up and all the beloved sons and daughters who will be risking their lives to defend Israel. And I have been brought right back to my childhood memories of the start of the Yom Kippur War that started exactly 50 years and one day before this atrocity. I was brought back to the sirens and explosions of the first Gulf War, when I was in Ramat Gan and had firsthand experience of the Scud missiles that wreaked such devastation. 

I am so proud of our Israeli brethren who have united and embraced each other, who have rallied in the face of evil. 

I am so proud of my daughter Alexandra who, along with her friends at MTVA (Bnei Akiva) Seminary has baked cookies and baked 90 challahs for the soldiers. Alexandra and her friends organized a fun carnival for 100 neighborhood children who’s fathers have been called up and they spent hours sorting and folding soldiers uniforms on an IDF base. I am so proud that Alexandra and a friend stood in line for seven hours to donate blood and that she bought supplies for the soldiers with donations from friends in America. 

I pray for peace and unity.


Our tickets were booked and I was so looking forward to spending ten days at the Sephardic House Hotel in Jerusalem’s Old City. Neil and I were flying to Israel to attend the annual board meeting for the Sephardic Educational Center, as well as a special Gala honoring Moshe Nissim, long time legal counselor to the SEC. 

I was so looking forward to visiting my cousins and their children, seeing old friends, eating at my favorite restaurants and shopping in Shuk Mach’ne Yehuda. 

Of course, our trip has been canceled. 

We in America have the luxury of coming and going and enjoying the beauty and fun and spirituality of Israel. But it’s the Israeli people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. The images in the media are heartbreaking. We watch in horror of what it means to live in Israel when our enemies decide to attack. Of what it means to live with such heavy fear. 

My childhood friend Judy, who introduced Sharon and me, and now lives in Ra’anana, messaged us that her sons and daughters have either been called up to fight or have volunteered to do whatever they can to help Israel’s fellow citizens. My grown children, who have such wonderful memories of time spent in Israel, have received messages from friends who have lost family members or have had their homes destroyed by missiles. It is beyond heartbreaking. 

I am so proud of the charity named for my mother, the Rica Emquies Israel Relief Fund administered by the Sephardic Educational Center. People have so generously contributed over $60,000, in just one week. 

So far, the funds have been used to purchase fleece jackets for an IDF base in the North and mattresses for a base in the South, as well as a portable washer and dryer for a base and we are answering daily requests for anything soldiers may need. 

The Sephardic House Hotel, in Jerusalem, which is usually filled with tourists will be providing housing and meals for families evacuated from the North and South. 

We pray for the peace in Israel . G-d willing we will see many celebrations there in the future, but for now we will keep our family, our friends, our soldiers and our people in our hearts and in our prayers. 


A week before Rosh Hashanah our dear friend Molly lost her sweet, saintly father Meir, a”h. I made a big pot of lentil soup for the mourners to eat upon their return home from the funeral. When I visited the Shiva home, all the grandchildren told me that the soup was so delicious. (It really was so good that the next day I cooked a huge pot for my family.)

Rachel and I couldn’t think of a better recipe to post in this time of collective mourning. A soup that reminds us how small we are in the scheme of the Universe. A soup that reminds us that life is a cycle and that we must go on, no matter that our hearts are completely shattered. 

Rachel and I couldn’t think of a better recipe to post in this time of collective mourning. 

This lentil and vegetable soup is the kind of recipe I love—easy to throw together, healthy, tasty and filled with vegetables and spices. 

The recipe starts with sautéed onions, carrots and celery and the flavor builds with tomatoes, garlic and potatoes. For a tasty twist, I add curry, turmeric and paprika. The lentils are added last and they simmer gently until they are soft and meaty and wonderful. 


At times when the heart is heavy, soup is always a comfort food. Lentil soup is a mourners soup, a poor man’s soup, so it is never served on Shabbat. My mother often made a brown lentil soup as part of a midweek meal and I learned to make lentil soup from her. My mother’s recipe always included chopped onion, celery, carrots, sweet potato and bay leaf. I love to add a dash of cumin and turmeric. Nowadays, as I try to cut down on serving meat and chicken during the week, I find myself eating more lentils and beans. The nutritional benefits include vitamins, minerals, high fiber and lots of protein. I just feel better knowing that I’m doing something positive for my body and feeding my family a healthy and delicious meal. 


Lentil Soup Recipe

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, diced

6 stalks celery, sliced

3 carrots, peeled and diced

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper

3 Tbsp parve consommé powder, optional

1 tsp turmeric 

1 tsp sweet paprika

1 tsp curry powder

6 cloves garlic, minced

4 tomatoes, chopped

2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced

2 dried bay leaf

6 cups vegetable stock or water

2 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained

Heat a large pot over medium high heat, then add oil, onion, celery, carrots, salt and pepper. 

Sauté the vegetable for 10 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables soften. 

Add the consommé, turmeric, paprika, curry, garlic and tomato. Stir to combine. 

Add potato, bay leaf and vegetable stock and bring to a boil, about 15-20 minutes. 

Add lentils and cover with a tilted lid. Reduce heat and gently simmer for about 15-20 minutes. 

Serve .


Adjust salt according to taste. 

Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts have been friends since high school. They love cooking and sharing recipes. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.

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