My wife is Jewish. I’m not.
When we first met and fell in love, that difference, and what it meant to our families, was enough to break us up. After four years apart, we reconnected. Hoping for a different outcome in the second round, we began with talking about Judaism, Jewish identity, my extended family’s evangelical background. We talked and talked and talked. She asked me if I was cool with forgoing a Christmas tree (I was), I asked her if matzoh was good (it can be, but large doses ought to be avoided), and over time we learned to navigate our backgrounds and families.
Over the past three years we learned a lot about one another’s holidays and traditions, and last summer I even got to stomp the glass under the chuppah. It took me a few stomps, but I got it right in the end. One by one, many of our questions have been answered, but I’ve had one for a few years that only seems to grow more complex over time:
What is Jewish food?
There are simple answers to this question. Bagels are certainly Jewish food. Matzo ball soup? Of course. Now what about hummus? Brisket? Can any one culture really claim a particular cut of beef? Does a culture have to be the inventor of a dish to identify with it? Do Chinese food and Jewish food overlap on Christmas, just for that one special day?
Questions like these were swirling through my head in the fall of 2017. I’d just walked away from my baking business, which had left me feeling burnt out on turning out mass quantities of food for people I’d never meet. With that business over and done with, I knew that I never wanted to deal with wholesale production again, but also knew that I wasn’t ready to leave the kitchen. Rachel, my wife, had founded Bat Sarah Press a few years before, and was looking for new ways to explore Judaism through ritual and art. The idea began to take shape: we would create a series of pop-up dinners that explored the cuisines of the Jewish Diaspora, conducting research, developing menus that focused on a specific place or culture. Each of the meals would be a Shabbat dinner, complete with a challah and kiddush that corresponded to the culture of the evening. Bat Sarah Press would make a short cookbook that guests could take home.
We recruited our friend Chris Reed to collaborate with us in developing the menus and cooking the dinners. Chris founded The Rice Table nearly a decade ago, cooking the Dutch-Indonesian food of his mother and the Cajun cooking of his father. His autobiographical and personable style of service was a perfect fit for the project.
Diaspora Dinners is a Chicago-based pop-up dinner series that explores the food and history of the Jewish Diaspora.
Co-Founder, Diaspora Dinners