Finding community in food


The holidays often start with food. It brings us together to share bread and conversation and memories.

My inbox has as many emails concerning seasonal food as it does those explaining customs, tradition and parshiot surrounding the High Holy Days and beyond. We cook and plan menus in advance, we search for the perfect ingredients and consult the many resources available to help us.

This is true of the secular holidays as well as the Jewish holidays.

Why this fascination?

Perhaps it comes from the need to plan well when there are extra mouths to feed, as there often are on a holiday. We certainly don’t want to be caught without enough food. And there are many traditional foods that must be accounted for.

Of course we want to please, and even impress, the relatives.

Perhaps it’s the vast amount of preparation necessary to cook before a holiday when you need to eat and can’t do any of the work to prepare it during the actual days of observance.

Or, perhaps the cooking and the planning and the preparation just satisfies a creative part of us. It’s fun to cook for those we love. But do any of our guests really notice if you are serving the same brisket or chicken that you served last year? Do you dare to try something new this year?

There’s no disputing that food at the holidays helps shape our memories. Who doesn’t remember the children’s table at Pesach? Grape juice instead of wine? Or, your bubbe’s matzoh balls (light as a feather, or, perhaps, more like cannon balls)?

For my family, I feel that we’ve made memories and taught lessons at every gathering around the dining room table. We have always placed importance on family meals, long before doing so was “fashionable.” And when those meals involved a holiday, so much the better.

The children are adults now. They remember the brisket and the noodle kugel, the turkey and the cranberries. They know that the kugel recipe comes from Mom’s high school NFTY experience and the brisket is a variation on their grandmother’s recipe.

They also remember a warm family experience that often included others at the table. We hope they will pass along these experiences to their families when they have the opportunity. It will be part of our connection to them and their families long after we are gone. And they will remember the importance of community.

And that’s part of the beauty of tradition. It transcends the moment, the holiday and connects generations. The great food is a wonderful experience but it’s also part of the glue that binds us to each other and binds one generation to the next.