A culinary historian responds to the violence in Charlottesville through a deeply personal lens, and suggests that food offers a point of connection.
I worked in a world—Hebrew schools—that was overwhelmingly female, white, upper middle class, Northern/Northeast, heterosexual and born into the Jewish community bubble. I was absolutely none of those things. I made a sport of grinning and bearing through my differences.
In the past few years, the words “kushi” and “shvartze” have enjoyed, let’s say, an unfortunate comeback. A few years ago, a prominent rabbinic scholar came under fire for suggesting that Jews should not commit crimes such as molestation — not necessarily because they were wrong, but because they would be put in jail with “shvartzes.” Most recently, the Hasidic singer Mordechai Ben David, dubbed “King of Jewish Music,” struck a sour note by deriding the outgoing president, Barack Obama, saying: “Do you know when there will be peace? In a few weeks, when there will be a new president in the United States and the kushi goes home.”
Being an African-American who is a Jew-By-Choice means having to do a lot of culinary negotiations. The table is where I integrate both sides of my hyphen. The plate is a means of “locating” myself squarely in the history of both Diasporas — African and Jewish, and all the places those Diaspora’s represent from Angola and Alabama to Ashkenaz, from South Carolina and Senegal to Sepharad. Cooking is how I pull all of my parts together and articulate who I am to those who might not understand how someone like me could be culturally “possible.” Shabbat gives me an opportunity to look within and use my cooking to tell stories that friends of all backgrounds have never heard — stories of history and migration, struggle and triumph, loss and recovery.
A mom and a chef glare at one another in a Baltimore parking lot ready to throw down with fire and sharp objects. It’s October, but it’s beginning to smell a lot like Passover.