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Op-eds

The way to a Jewish person’s heart

  • Howard Feldman 2018
We spent the past weekend on the idyllic island of Mauritius, where we took part in a family celebration. Thirty of us had gathered from all over the world to enjoy a rare and very precious few days together.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Aug 16, 2018

No one starved.

Of the group, none of us had lived through the Holocaust. And yet, what food we were to consume, when we would consume it, and in what volumes we would do so, contributed to about 80% of the discussion.

The reason that percentage wasn’t higher was simply because it is almost impossible to either eat or even talk about eating whilst snorkelling. (I know this because I tried).

It turns out that this does not apply to water skiing if one is fully committed to the task, and particularly adept (I didn’t try that). But it is apparently not recommended.

The family food anxiety had started some weeks before, with the planning of meals, discussion about the planning of meals, and conversations about discussions about planning of the meals. Kosher food is problematic on the island, in spite of there being a well-oiled Chabad, which made the apprehension perfectly justifiable.

What wasn’t reasonable was my concern that a lack of fresh products was going to result in me coming down with a severe case of scurvy. I happen to be a massive hypochondriac, who is also open to suggestion. This year alone, I was convinced that I had contracted Listeriosis, Ebola, and a smattering of garden variety cancers. So, when my teeth started to feel a little loose in my mouth, one could hardly blame me for panicking a little.

Turns out, I wasn’t at risk, and three days without an orange does not place one in jeopardy (according to Google).

There is an (over) used adage that a summary of Jewish history is that, “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat”. Although valid, I believe that there is more to our unnatural obsession with food than mere threat of extinction.

True, our biggest concern on leaving Egypt was the bread that didn’t have time to rise. True, the minute we achieved our freedom from slavery, we complained about the menu. Then, there is the fact that each festival has a food associated with it for either a good or no apparent reason.

But it is also true that we protect our recipes as though they are an external measure of our own DNA. And this has nothing to do with religious and historical worship. My late grandmother, in fact, took many a family dish to the grave with her. Simply, she would rather have the legacy die with her than have her daughter in law (my mother) take credit for something that was hers.

Communities have been ripped apart by cheesecake. The perfect baked-herring recipe has long been coveted like a Chalice, and more recently, the method of keeping avocados green in a salad can be a more divisive debate than land expropriation without compensation.

Perhaps that’s because no one is going to take our bonded 1 200m in Glenhazel anytime soon. But the possibility of eating a brown avocado remains as threatening and as real as Listeriosis itself.

Our history, both personal and as a community, is interwoven with memories of food. Our grandmother’s jam biscuits, our aunt’s potatoes, and mother’s challah all contribute to the tapestry of our past just as much as the memory of the event itself.

The warm, comforting smell of cooking, the ritual of eating, and the acknowledgement of family delicacies and legacies, all serve to create a memory so powerful that you can almost taste it.

For family memories, this is a fail-proof recipe.

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