Food for Thought
Passover is a great time to think about food, especially when we have been blessed with the new Sisterhood cookbook, celebrating TBE's 100 years. Meanwhile over in England, new archeological proof has emerged that medieval Jews there ate strictly kosher. Read about it in the Jewish Chronicle.
The power of food to sustain a culture is undeniable. I wrote about it in my introduction to the cookbook, which, in light of its relevance to this holiday, I'm reprinting here:
I’ve always felt that the best way to transmit a culture is through the stomach. Our fondest childhood memories revolve around the tastes and smells of tradition – the Hallah on Shabbat, the matzah ball soup on Passover, the sweet tzimmis of Rosh Hashanah and, of course, the oily latkes of Chanukah.
When you think about it, Judaism has been kept alive (and Jews kept awake all night) over the centuries as much because of what goes into our mouths as from what comes out of our mouths. The ancient sages understood this keenly, and they made a direct connection between the two. Jewish food has long represented the best of our value system: sensitivity to life, kindness to animals, love of tradition, celebration of nature, not wasting precious resources, honoring parents and love of Israel and the Jewish people – all these are embedded in the foods we choose to eat.
Our foods express Jewish diversity and creativity too. As a mobile people, we’ve become infinitely adaptable. We didn’t invent the bagel (we adopted it from Poland in the 17th century), but it has come to define us for various reasons, not the least of which is that it is round and has a hole. In our tradition, round foods symbolize mourning and the cycles of life. The hole is not uniquely Jewish, but the response is. How we fill it is. What we build around it is. When Jewish mourners return from a funeral, the tradition requires us to eat immediately. We eat round foods to show that life goes on. Our response to death is life – and food is the very symbol of life.
All of which is my way of stating that this cookbook belongs right next to the siddur and Bible among our pantheon of sacred texts. As a labor of love by the editors, it is a supreme expression of faith in the Jewish future and reverence for our past. As a collection of recipes from the kitchens of scores of congregants, it is an authentic expression of the very soul of the congregation. And as a book that will help to transmit the love of Judaism to the next generation, one meal at a time, this is in every sense a living document. Like the Passover Haggadah, it will not be complete without a wine stain here or a dried speck of matzah meal there. Like the Torah itself, it will be rendered meaningless unless it is used.
I know that I will savor the smells even before they leap from the page (even of the meatier sections, although I’m a vegetarian). And through this collaborative effort, I also know that, even when the synagogue is dark and cold, in some kitchen somewhere, someone will be enjoying a little taste of TBE.
Yashar Koach to Fran Ginsburg, cookbook editor, and to all who contributed to it!
Some additional reading:
Famous Seders in Jewish History...
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