Food for Thought

ilana SpitzA letter from Rebbetzen Ilana Epstein

The London Jewish community is at times so big, yet everyone seems to know each other. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask me if I know their mother, uncle, sisters-in-law, cousin, etc. that lives in Southgate, the community where Daniel and I are fortunate enough to be the Rabbinic couple in charge.

We took up our position in London over a year ago for after I graduated the Claudia Cohen Women Educators Institute and Daniel completed the Straus-Amiel Practical Rabbinics Program. When we left, we had so many things we were looking forward to and yet, at the same time, fear of what we would be letting go of in the process. For instance, Daniel and I were excited to be moving to London to this small yet big community (where if you don’t find someone in common, it means you have not talked for long enough), but at the same time we were concerned that we would miss the friends and family we were leaving behind in Israel. One of the smaller items that I was concerned that I would have to leave behind was my love of food.

While living in Israel, I wrote a weekly column for the Jerusalem Post about food, exploring new recipes, and then I trained and qualified as a pastry chef. Thankfully, it seems that Jewish food is loved the world over. I’m constantly asked to do food presentations and workshops. The most recent was this past Sunday.

“Gefiltefest” is London’s only kosher food festival and this year it was held at the ultra-modern and wonderful JW3 – the Jewish Community Centre in North West London. There were a multitude of stalls selling kosher ready-made food, exhibitions, demonstrations, lectures and workshops throughout the day. I was fortunate enough to be asked to be one of the presenters, and as always I was geared up for the challenge and the fun.

I’m usually alone in a crowd when it comes to my food preference. I love Ashkenazi comfort food –as I thought did many others, and though I was raised with both traditions of Ashkenazi and Sephardi food, I gravitate to the former. This Sunday was no different in that I demonstrated how to make soft cheese, and then we used the cheese to fill blintzes, and in the making of Lokshen Kugel. What was different is that for once I was swimming against the tide. My fellow demonstrators and workshops were all exhibiting a wonderful array of Sephardi food. People were making hummus, Sabich, Falafel, Shakshuka, pickling eggs and lemons, and the smell of curry and cumin were heavy in the air.

It was such a delight to explain to my group the origin of soft cheese in the Ashkenazi kitchen and how it became such an intrinsic part of our diet. I was one of the few people at the fair wearing a Kisui Rosh (head-covering) and as I finished my demonstration to a round of applause, I knew that once more we had made the right decision, in coming to London. I am so proud to be teaching people what I know about Judaism, about my Ashkenazi customs and practices and about what it means to be a Torah Jew.

Wishing all of you a wonderful summer.

 

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