In many ways, food brought me to Judaism. My fiancé was born in Israel; several years ago, he took me to visit his homeland for the first time. I was exposed to the incredible Israeli food culture, and I quickly fell in love with Jewish cuisine. I came back from that trip with a mission—to recreate the amazing flavors I’d tasted in our home kitchen. As I immersed myself in traditional Jewish cooking, learning to make dishes that are centuries old (and in some cases even older), I finally felt at home… like I was returning to a place that made my spirit happy.
Last Thursday, I completed that journey home by converting to Judaism. Surrounded by family, under the guidance of my rabbi, I embraced the Jewish faith. It was a powerful, beautiful day—one I will never forget.
This journey started back in college, long before I met my fiancé. I was not raised in a religion; my parents gave me the gift of choice when it came to spirituality. I’ve always known on a deep level that God exists, but the context for understanding my Creator was unclear. For many years I felt adrift, doing my best to find peace in the midst of chaos. Then I took a college writing course called “The Holocaust,” in which I was asked to examine this most heinous event in human history. Signing up for this class proved to be a life-altering choice. I was consumed by memoirs like “Night,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and “All but My Life.” I yearned to know the Jewish people better — to understand their faith, optimism and hope, even in the darkest of times. I left the class full of curiosity, my heart open and ready to learn more. It was the beginning of my spiritual awakening, a journey that finally came full circle last week.
For me, becoming Jewish is about joining a larger family and community. What drew me to the Jewish faith was the focus on family, tradition, and reaching out to help others in need. A big part of being Jewish is acknowledging a responsibility to your fellow humans by spreading positive energy in this increasingly complex world. I have accepted that responsibility, and it makes my heart very happy.
I’m sharing this experience with all of you, my Shiksa in the Kitchen community, because I feel that food is more than just sustenance. Food is a way of communicating; the energy we pass on through our cooking feeds the body as well as the soul. By writing this blog, and taking a journey into the history of food, I hope to spread positive energy. In the same way a good meal makes people happy, I hope that this blog… and the recipes and stories you find here… make you happy.
And guess what? I am learning right beside you. I am not a trained chef or a food critic or a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. I started this blog to learn more about Jewish food and food history. Consider this our shared virtual culinary classroom– a place where we learn not only how to cook delicious food, but how that food came to be in the first place. Every kitchen has a heritage; every recipe has a writer. Knowing the story behind the food– the ancient history, or the family history, or even the history of one particular ingredient– can infuse a dish with meaning. And then a meal becomes more than just food, something that fills you up physically. Food takes on a spiritual significance, and ultimately becomes more nourishing.
If you read my blog, you are probably somebody who loves food. That’s something we all share. A good meal can bring warmth and joy to anybody, no matter who you are or where you come from. I welcome all faiths and backgrounds to join me on my journey into the heart of food history. Our diversity makes us stronger!
As many of you know, the word shiksa means a non-Jewish woman. Some of you may be wondering, “Is she still going to be called The Shiksa In The Kitchen?” I answer that question with an enthusiastic yes! Historically, the word shiksa has been used in a derogatory way — meant to convey that the “shiksa” is somehow “less than” somebody born into Judaism. Rather than shy away from the word, I choose to let my background empower me. I have no shame that I was born a shiksa; I am exploring Judaism through the eyes of somebody newly reborn and thrilled to be part of the Tribe. I am happy that I was born a shiksa, it made me who I am today. Judaism is now my spiritual path, but I will never forget where I came from. Plus, “The Convert In The Kitchen” doesn’t sound quite as cute, does it?
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be blogging about Passover. Our family celebrates the Seder meal on Erev Pesach, the Eve of Passover. This year, it falls on March 29. In preparation for the Seder, I’ll be posting many new recipes and articles about the Passover experience. I look forward to sharing some amazing food ideas with you, and hearing your own Seder traditions as well. Please join me!