Sukkot: Recipes For Celebrating Jewish Diversity
By Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder
Be'chol Lashon Rabbi-in-Residence
Sukkot is a wonderful time to celebrate not just the bounty of the earth but also the diversity of Jewish life that comes together to make up the Jewish community. Both of those elements are joined in the blessings we say over the arbat haminim. Meant to represent the bounty and diversity of the plant world, the lulav, etrog, hadas, and aravah also stand in for the coming together of the disparate elements of the Jewish people. As we learn in the Talmud, a person does not fulfill the obligation of arbat haminim until “the four plants are bound together in one cluster. [As]it is with Israel’s endeavor to conciliate God, which is successful only when all of Israel are together in one cluster.” Menachot 27a.
While it is wonderful to literally invite the diversity of our community into our sukkot by hosting new guests in our sukkot, the tradition ofushpizin suggests that we can extend our reach by use of metaphoric invitations and ritual actions to create an atmosphere that celebrate the breadth of Jewish cultural experience. Just as we invite different Jewish historic figures into our sukkot, we can invite Jews from different geographic locations into our sukkot by cooking foods from those communities and discussing the customs, history and character of those communities.
Overwhelmingly, American Jews have a limited knowledge of Jewish food, relying primarily on a repertoire of Eastern European flavors and favorites. Sukkot which has fewer food traditions than other holidays is the perfect opportunity to branch out.
The foods of different Jewish communities encapsulate much about the history, location, and customs of the particular place and time from which those foods originated. With the magic of the internet we can listen to regional music while you prepare dishes from that locale. The cookbooks and websites from which recipes come often offer much by way of context and cultural insight.
The possibilities are endless so I have chosen just two examples and would love to hear from others who cook up other dishes and invite the diversity of the Jewish people into their sukkot:
1. In the news constantly today because of the current war, Iraq was the original diaspora Jewish community and was until recently vibrant and large. In Israel today Iraqi Jewish foods are gaining national popularity. In her bookMama Nazima’s Jewish-Iraqi Cuisine, Rivka Goldman provides insights into the “history, cultural references, and survival stories of the Jewish-Iraqi” community. Take a look for inspiration drawn from Iraqi Jewish culinary traditions.
2. The Jewish community of Italy traces its roots back thousand of years. Though the contemporary community is relatively small, it has a rich heritage of scholarship, religious life, and cuisine. Edda Servi Machlin’s two volume set The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews I & II are contemporary classics that capture so much about this often overlooked community.
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