Last Friday I wrote ‘make challah’ on my to-do list for the weekend. It was something my grandmother made on a weekly basis – one loaf for herself and my grandfather, and a second to take to synagogue, where she and my grandfather attended weekly services, took part in discussion groups and torah studies, participated in holiday celebrations and tzedakah (charity) efforts. When I heard of the news on Saturday, that a synagogue in Squirrel Hill, PA, home of my grandparents, my mother and her two siblings, was the next link in an unbroken chain of mass shootings, the challah immediately got bumped up the list.
I woke up earlier this week to the stomach churning news of Brazil’s newly elected president; a man who doesn’t hide homophobic, racist or sexist beliefs but rather used them as his platform to get elected. Another act of terror in the already terrorised world. Another one I feel no control over, only gut-wrenching worry. Another problem with no permanent solution.
If the past few months since my father’s death have taught me nothing else, it has driven home the stark reality there are problems for which there will never be one definitive solution; only more work, forever to be done.
Years ago I did that much of that work from the closer to the front lines (so-to-speak) than I do now. It nearly ate me alive. Every evening I brought all of the unfix-able and injustice home with me, put it into pj’s and invited it into my bed each night. I found new pieces of myself over those years but also I got lost; engulfed, completely, wholly, overwhelmingly consumed at the same time with never being able to solve the greater issue or problem. Nothing I did ever felt like it was enough. That last part has remained the same, even though my line of work has changed.
My love of cooking has more to do with people and places than it will ever have to do with food alone. My driving desire is to set a table that figuratively touches each beautiful piece of the world, sampling as much and learning as much as I can, as I go along. I do this for many reasons big and small ranging from curiosity to connection, desire to travel and escapism from the mundanities of daily life. But mostly, overwhelmingly, it’s so my children can think ‘I know a bit about that place, I can begin to understand those people’ whenever they encounter someone new or different. By making the girls as familiar and comfortable as possible with the unfamiliar in small, frequent ways, I want to teach them to lean in and say ‘tell me more’ with inquiry and excitement, rather than back away in fear or hesitation. It’s not front lines work by any means. It will never be enough to change things on its own, but it’s what I am capable of doing most days whilst still being able to go to sleep at night (sort of) and maintain my health so I’m trying to find comfort within in that. Trying…
“It’s only food” someone (very money-talks business man-ish) once told me when I explained what I did for work. And it is, I suppose – only food. Food which is surrounded by people, and history, and family, and belief systems, and traditions and, and, and….. learning them, learning how to ask questions to understand, to connect to people who are different but share something familiar, is necessary.
To bring the world to my children in as many ways as possible so they will act from a place love and connection and desire to learn more when they go out into it- feels like more than just ‘only’ to me. It feels imperative. A step in the right direction. Maintainable, achievable, pass-on-able, and a driving factor which will always push me to do just a little bit more whenever and where ever possible.
PS. For anyone out there who would like to give a 6-strand challah a try, this YouTube video was absolutely invaluable to us last weekend, as was this delicious recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Enjoy! x