Lessons of the Table: Finding My Jewish Community

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A few years ago I decided to convert to Judaism.  Of course you might be curious about the why, but that is a much longer story that will take a long time to tell. For now, I will say that I’ve been learning a lot about the Jewish community through food. And as someone who took this journey without a partner (I didn’t choose Judaism for an impending marriage) I was quick to realize that becoming part of a community was quite a challenge.

That was where the food came in. I like to think of myself as an amateur chef with credentials like having once lived in France and currently belonging to a CSA, but truth be told is that I really like to cook – an apparently good trait to have within the Jewish community. And since I don’t have the immediate familial connection for the big Jewish foodie holidays like Pesach and Shabbat, I found myself assembling my own Jewish family around a table to share in good food and Jewish learning.

With Joan Nathan as my guide, the first seder I ever cooked was a “practice seder” the night before Pesach began – since many of my friends spent the holiday with their families. This gave me the opportunity to learn some of the traditions in a truly hands-on way as well as prepare many familiar Pesach dishes for my friends.

Since then there have been many meals, conversations and even a few new cookbooks (my current favorite is Jennifer Felicia Abadi’s A Fistful of Lentils) that have helped me along my path towards Judaism. The other night I was reminded of just how far I’ve come on this journey when a quickly dashed off email late last week produced a dozen guests at my home to share in a meal before the start of Tish B’Av. It was my first time to fast for this holiday and I was grateful that I was not doing it alone. I’ve found that you can’t really be Jewish without a community, so I feel blessed as I continue to find, and feed mine.

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16 Responses to “Lessons of the Table: Finding My Jewish Community”

  1. E Says:

    You must be a great cook if you could summon a dozen guests on short notice! What a lovely way to think about community.

  2. Gregg Says:

    She is a great cook and amazing person…..I was at the pre and post fast meals.

  3. Hannah Lee Says:

    It sounds like a supportive community you’re living in.
    You could also incorporate foods from your own culture, Mia. I set a Shabbat table with chopsticks and I always serve rice for Friday night dinner.

  4. Allison Says:

    I am also looking into converting, but have been practicing for several years. I often feel a strong connection to Judaism sitting around the table at a Shabbes meal. It is really hard when you don’t have family traditions or family to spend the holidays with. It is awesome that you have created your own traditions. I hope your first fast went well.

  5. Eric Says:

    Thank you for including me in your delicious, abundant pre-fast feast, Mia. Your immortal words are still with me: “All I want to do is help people and feed them.” For me, that is Messiah energy rising from the ashes on the saddest day of the year.

  6. Jason Says:

    I’m sure it’s been said before, but my hypothesis is that the original purpose of Judaism was to get a bunch of people to sit together (and eat).

  7. Mia Rut Says:

    Thank you all for such supportive comments! Hannah Lee, I really like your suggestion incorporating foods you grew up with and setting your table with familiar items. My mother used to make my sisters and I a breakfast food she called “Bird’s Nests.” It is a piece of buttered bread with a fried and egg in a hole cut into the middle of the bread. I had always thought of it as a Midwestern or even a Pennsylvania Dutch dish. But I was once in a conversation with a Jewish Canadian friend who was describing a breakfast food his mom used make – called “Egg in a Hole.” Turns out it was the same dish only his mom used challah bread and my mom used white bread (although now she uses wheat).

  8. Kerri Says:

    Thinking about all of the delicious dishes on your table makes me want to convert Mia. Great post!

  9. DHO Says:

    Sorry I missed that. I know you’ve been cooking and contributing to lots of community meals and events with food, fervor and organizational acumen. Can’t wait until you’re officially in!

  10. Fern Says:

    Mia–Welcome to The Tribe! You really can learn a lot about Judaism through food. People joke around about Judaism and food, but I tink you’re right, you can learn a lot of substance (halacha, symbolic ideas, etc) from studying Jewish food.

  11. Moe Says:

    Re: “Bird’s Nest”

    My parents made the same thing – only we called it a “Hole in One.”

  12. Mia Rut Says:

    Yes, it turns out there are many names for this dish and multiple pop culture references. According to wikipedia,

    “This dish was famously featured in the 1941 Betty
    Grable movie Moon Over Miami, earning it the name
    “Moon-Over-Miami” eggs (although it was referred
    to in the film as “gas house eggs”).

    It later made a notable appearance in the 1987
    film Moonstruck, and several recipes for the dish
    have since been named “Moonstruck Eggs.”

    In the film V for Vendetta, both V and Gordon make
    an Egg in the Basket sandwich for Evey Hammond.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_in_the_basket

  13. MIa Rut's Mom Says:

    I have learned much about Mia Rut’s conversion through the foods that she introduces our family to. It is a wonderful way to learn about Jewish traditions and holiday celebrations. And it is exciting to know that the slice of buttered bread with a hole in the middle and an egg broken in the hole to “fry up” is shared by so many.

  14. shev Says:

    Beautiful writing, Mia Rut! I look forward to reading more from you.

  15. Marcos Says:

    Being a convert as well, I am always interested in hearing about others’ reasons/pathways to Judaism, hence I found your blog through Jewcy. At any rate… I found your writing about food and the communal table to be very inspiring. Thank you for your writing.

    I have similar experiences with food being a communication medium, and agree that a connection to community is absolutely necessary for a Jew. I envy your community connection.

    If you need any ‘Kosher South of the Border’ Receipes, holler.

    PD. My mother, oddly enough, called the ‘egg in the hole’ dish a ‘Boy Scout’. I haven’t any idea why.

  16. Yam Erez Says:

    We call it Rocky Mountain Toast. I’ve also heard it called *moshe b’Tevah* [Moses in the basket - you know, of bullrushes]. In fact, my (Israeli) daughters have shortened it to “Rocky Mountains”. Anyway, I got sidetracked from reading your article in Jewcy, and look forward to reading Haim (of SouthJerusalem)’s response. Good luck dating and welcome to the Tribe!

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