Me and My Family—How We Incorporate Judaism into Our Lives Every Day
By Jessica Leiken
When I started to think about my own every day Jewish life, it had to come back to the kitchen. My mom taught me all of our Jewish food traditions while I was growing up. We made bread together and she taught me how to braid challah. We made hamentashen at Purim and I discovered all the different fillings you could use. My mom preferred prune and poppy seed fillings, and I went for the super sweet apricot or raspberry jam. Matzo Brei is a family favorite, and not just for Passover. I still use Grandma Shirley's Matzo Brei Pan out of a sense of tradition. As I got older, matzo ball making became a two-stage process we shared. Mom made the batter (with real chicken fat) and put it in the refrigerator overnight; I shaped and boiled the matzo balls the next day.
Years later, I discovered that my mom's family recipes weren't actually family recipes. She relied almost exclusively on Mimi Sheraton's memoir/cookbook "From My Mother's Kitchen." Now out of print, this book contains stories and recipes that go with the traditions of Ashkenazi Jews growing up on New York's Lower East Side. My copy is filled with notes on how to customize the recipes with our adaptations ("add 1 tsp of baking powder to the potato latkes, but don't whip the egg whites"). I buy used copies of this book and give it to friends and family to share my Jewish food traditions. My brother, the chef, even put Jim's Matzo Ball Soup on the menu at his restaurant and described it as "his mother's recipe." When Mimi Sheraton showed up at the restaurant he brought out his copy of the book for her to sign and owned up to the fact that “his mother's” soup recipe was really hers (although now with duck fat).
Every family has its own food traditions and that is often where we turn first when we think about being Jewish at home. We have expanded beyond Mimi Sheraton, and our house has several Jewish cookbooks that we turn to for inspiration. There are many other ways that we can nourish ourselves with our Jewish identity. Food is just the beginning.
Jessica Leiken’s family recommends:
"Jim's Matzoh Ball Soup" recipe:
From My Mother's Kitchen by Mimi Sheraton (1979)
Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan (1994)
The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden (1996)
All of these books are available through local public libraries and on Amazon. If you decide to purchase a copy, please consider using the Amazon shopping link from Ner Tamid’s homepage.
Please share your Jewish family traditions or ways in which you bring Judaism into your everyday life with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi. My name is Alexa and I’m counting down the days until…sleepaway summer camp! It’s going to be my 4th summer and this is the year I move on up the hill to Cedar Lake. There are so many amazing things about camp it’s difficult to narrow it down to just one favorite. But…believe it or not, I look forward to Shabbat dinner. Yes, I said it. Shabbat dinner is one of my favorite things to do in camp. Shabbat dinner gives us permission to bang on the tables, sing prayers, sway arm in arm, wear white and look forward to a clean slate for the new week ahead. When camp is over, I’m excited to see my family, but then after a week, I start to miss my camp friends. My family and I celebrate Shabbat at home, but it’s completely different and it’s more serious – more parental. I love that I have both experiences, and I know my parents like when I try to “bring a little more light” to our family Shabbat with my singing and dancing. Only 110 more days until camp.