Deepening Jewish Life through Food

I ventured on a 10 days silent meditation retreat. By choice. If there was something deeper and more
meaningful to live by, I was in search of it.  The days were challenging. The food wholesome and delicious. The achievement was enlightening. 

I was fortunate. I grew up as a traditional “Conservative Jew in the East”.  That meant I went to Hebrew school three times a week where I learned to read and write Hebrew, but not comprehend the language. What made it fun was watching the boys get into mischief in our class.

Our family would go to synagogue on the high holidays. We didn’t understand a word that was being said for hours on end. My mother let us hide Archie comics in our siddur and read them in the huge echoing synagogue while we prayed.

In my 20’s I moved to California and my relationship to Judaism exploded. I was blown away by my new Jewish life. Gorgeous synagogues, cantors that sang with chilling voices, full instrumental bands, meaningful sermons, and people my age! I would attend shabbat services in Beverly Hills by choice. Learning Torah became fun.

Outside of that, I attended Jewish young adult activities. The events were usually based around free drinks at a bar. I understand how that would be appealing to people in their 20’s but it felt empty. I wanted more; connection, discussion, history, heritage. I went anyways and drank my drink and ate my donuts because it was “fun sometimes.”

Eventually I moved to a small city and once again found my options for Judaism similar to that of my childhood. Zilch. I longed for community. I would travel to weekends Jewish retreats but come back to find I didn’t have anyone with whom to share those experiences.

Why do I tell you this? There are many people craving connection, meaning, spirituality, depth, and nourishment through Judaism. If it’s not accessible in our Jewish community, we look for it at silent meditation retreats.

I decided to create change.  I merged my passion and love of food with Judaism, and built our beloved community, Latkes and Babka.  In our community we enjoy deep conversations, hands-on, food-based learning, talks about Judaism. We feed our souls and bellies.

It’s a place for individuals to go that don’t want to go synagogue, or want something in addition to synagogue, or where joining a Jewish synagogue isn’t even an option. It’s a place for individuals who don’t want to sit passively through services for three hours. Or watch a 3rd grade class singing “O Chanukah O Chanukah come Light the Menorah”, as cute as that might be. Instead of eating store bought latkes at a party, we get our hands sticky and make our own latkes, perhaps with a twist of dill infused sour cream.

At Latkes and Babka we want to sit in nature to discuss how the story of Chanukah relates to our personal challenges. We want to dive deep into tradition, culture and our Judaism and enjoy a meaningful and uplifting time of togetherness.

Why did I choose food?

It’s my history. It’s my professional career. It’s my love. As the Founder & CEO of Urban Hippie Granola Corporation, it’s what I do. I teach cooking classes, publish articles on food trends and food waste, give lectures and classes at Loblaws and Whole Foods, use my knowledge as a Master Gardener to teach about how food is grown. I even talk about shmita, the ancient Jewish practice that is enjoying a comeback now because it teaches us to give both the earth and ourselves a rest every seven years. I’m immersed and surrounded by food and want to share and learn with my community.

Over time, we have been losing the art and practice of eating Jewish food and the beauty and knowledge of it. Between the passing of our grandparent’s generation to the creation of Uber Eats delivery, it’s becoming more convenient now not to cook. My mother, who cooked from scratch every day or our lives, is tired and barely cooks at all anymore. Recipes and traditions are fading away like the pencil lined notes in the margins of my Bubbie’s torn cookbooks.

We need to go back to our roots and grow our food without the use of pesticides or chemicals in our soil. We need to ensure that the water run off will no longer poison the water we drink. We need to nurture our earth with kindness. We need to treat our animals humanely, including the way we produce animal byproducts.  

Because I value the wisdom (chochma) of the Jewish tradition, I started to create programs that delve deeper. For Chanukah, we went to an olive oil presser to learn about the labor, water, soil, time, and love that goes into growing olives and pressing oil. For each of the eight nights, we dipped our bread in a new oil and vinegar combination, like blackberry ginger and lavender. We then related stories of Chanukah and the parallels to our life. When did we feel that we were about to give up, but then didn’t? When did we believe that a miracle was around the corner? Weren’t there times in our lives when the tank felt just about empty, but somehow, we found the energy to keep going? The story of a small bit of oil that lasted for eight days is a reminder of those types of experiences. As we were exploring these themes around Chanuka, we were building community (kehilla). We gave ourselves permission to be vulnerable and then we lifted each other up, all the time searching for deeper wisdom.

Food reinforces important customs of Jewish life and tradition. It’s the glue that holds us all together. Whether you are Orthodox, Conservative, secular, or something else, we all eat latkes during Chanukah and hamantashen at Purim. We all drink Bubbie’s elixir when we are sick. A matzo ball is a matzo ball throughout the world. It’s a feeling of home when you’re far away.  It’s an instant comfort from a stranger because, there’s nothing strange when someone across the globe you’ve never met invites you in for a Shabbat meal.  It’s comfort, a safety. It’s intergenerational. We are united through Jewish food.

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