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Tasty Torah is more than just a metaphor

In an attempt to draw members of the Jewish community in Omaha to lessons on the weekly Torah portion, Yoni Dreyer came up with a novel idea:  each Torah lesson ends with the preparation of a dish related to the Biblical portion learned.

by Moshe Weistuch | Shevii Magazine | 31 January, 2020

 Everyone knows that food can help people connect.  When Yoni Dreyer, an emissary of OTS’ Straus-Amiel program and the World Zionist Organization in Omaha, Nebraska, tried to think of a weekly portion shiur which would draw the members of the community, he decided to use food, but take it one step further. 

dreyer article in shevii“I wanted to encourage people attend the lessons, and help them learn more Torah in general,” says Dreyer.  “Since I also have some culinary experience, I decided to combine the two.  That is how “Tasty Torah” was born:  a lesson on the weekly Torah portion that combines Torah study with the preparation of a dish related to the portion studied.”

The Beth Israel congregation, which comprises 200 or so families, is the only Orthodox community in Nebraska.  Dreyer, aged 30, arrived in Omaha about three months ago with his wife Shiran and their four children.  He serves as an Assistant Rabbi, while Shiran teaches Jewish studies and Hebrew, and both put their heads together in order to come up with new ways of helping the community members connect to Judaism. 

Yoni Dreyer in Omaha Chef weekly parsha Nov 2019In recent weeks the community members have been convening to study the weekly Torah portion together.  The second part of each lesson is dedicated to preparing dishes mentioned in the Biblical verses studied.  When Dreyer taught the portion of Toldot from Genesis, the group prepared a lentil dish, just as Jacob had prepared for Esau.  Two weeks ago, when the group studied the portion of Shemot, in which the birth of Moses is mentioned, the participants toiled over a dish known in Hebrew as “Moses in the Basket”, which is a type of sausage roll, reminiscent of a baby wrapped up in a blanket.

Dreyer admits that the challenge he has taken up is not always a simple one, and that when it comes to some of the weekly portions, he really has to think out of the box to come up with a related dish.  “In the weekly portion of Vayetze, for example, we learned of the special code signs Jacob taught Rachel, so we prepared fortune cookies.  The participants wrote little notes with riddles and gave them to their friends.”

The Dreyers are expected to stay in the community for the next three years, and in the meanwhile, Yoni is taking pleasure in this type of lesson he has thought up, and is giving lessons twice a week.  “The lessons are proof that food is one of the only things in the world with the ability to bridge across languages and cultures and create real bonding between people.”


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