As Autumn and the Jewish Holidays approach, I am actually looking forward to the cool weather so that I can use my oven once again. It has been way too hot to turn that thing on. I love to bake and especially like to bake with my kids. In addition to the modeling cooking and baking together provides, it also creates what I hope will be lasting memories of family rituals around the Jewish holidays, something I never had.
Saying I did not grow up in a religious household is an understatement; I went to my first Passover Seder in my early twenties at a boyfriend’s home. Until I went to college in the midwest, where there were relatively few Jewish people, I rarely thought about being Jewish–I was a New Yorker. Then the antisemitic wave happened on campus, things like rigging the breaks on a Jewish day camp bus and swastikas on the Jewish frat houses. I was forced to think of myself as Jewish and I felt conflicted.
Until the antisemitism, my Jewish identity was based on living in New York, having dark curly hair and absorbing a lifetime of negative stories of Jews being persecuted throughout history-pretty negative stuff (the persecution part). I was angry at the perpetrators of the racist acts but I was also angry and afraid about being Jewish.
I decided to find more postive associations with being Jewish to, well, feel more positive about being Jewish.
I immersed myself in all things Jewish, from reading Sartre and Roth to attending campus Hillel meetings. I also delved into Jewish food and learned of it’s importance in maintaining Jewish culture through the ages. I learned how to make a kick ass Matzoh ball soup, learned that Jews ate apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah and that one got to prepare and eat a great feast for Passover. The food piece really resonated with me and I was hooked. Once I hosted my first Passover for family and friends, I started to feel like I was actually part of this incredible culture and felt like it was where I was supposed to be.
I made a promise that I would do what I could to instill a sense of pride and comfort in my children about being Jewish. If faced with antisemitism in their future, I am confident that my children will not feel conflicted about their identity, but will feel proud and do what they need to do to peacefully make our world a more harmonious place. All from sharing apples and honey and special family time? I believe so.
Alma Schneider is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialization in helping individuals overcome their practical and psychological obstacles to cooking. Think Dr. Phil meets Rachel Ray. Healthy and “everything in moderation” recipes can be found on her blog, Take Back the Kitchen