After what seems like ages of all talk but no action, it’s finally here: Challah Back Kitchen! Yes, I’m doing the damn thing. The nebulous idea for this project had been floating around my head for a long time until, during a recent meeting with my rabbi, we came up with what you see here: A creative platform to join my love of food with my growing love of Judaism.
I began the process of converting to Judaism in high school. Initially, I started studying it as part of an academic exploration of what “religion” could mean to me. From Christianity to Wicca to Buddhism to Islam to Atheism, I tried to learn as much about the various faith traditions as I could. But the more I learned about Judaism, the more the core values of community, social justice, and repairing the world matched my own. They resonated with me on a deeply personal level, and motivated me to convert.
More than a decade later, I found myself living in New York City. I had become an avid baker and was learning (read: taught myself how through many trials and more errors) to bake challah. I had also made the decision to recommit to the conversion process because of all the wonderful experiences I had and people I met in the NYC Jewish community. My studies and love of baking developed simultaneously. Because of this, challah has become an important part of my conversion experience.
As part of the process of conversion, many people pick specific topics, research them, and write reflective essays. That is what this project will be, in part.
However, I want this project to be all of the things: Creative, fun, quirky, and challenging. I will focus on being educational and incorporating spirituality. The goal is to deepen my connection with Judaism and add value to my conversion process. But above all, I want it to be something that will be read by more than just my rabbi and my mother, though I always appreciate their support.
And that’s how we find ourselves in the Challah Back Kitchen. The name for the project was inspired by my dear friend Yasmine, who always asks me to make her some "Hollaback bread."
The current page - Food - will focus on the practical food portion of the project. Similar to the concept of Julie Powell's "Julie and Julia", I will be studying and cooking from Joan Nathan's - the maven of Ashkenazic American Jewish food - classic, "Jewish Cooking in America". I will also supplement that with recipes from the gorgeous "Jerusalem: A Cookbook" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, for modern Israeli and Sephardic fare. And for a bit of regional flare - because Texas, y'all - selections from "Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South" by Marcie Cohen Ferris.
The next page - Commentary - will be where I bring in elements from Jewish history, tradition, ritual, and law. I want to explore the meaning of food in a Jewish context, past, present, and future.
So, as I continue on this journey, I hope you will follow along and enjoy the adventure. Because what is Judaism without community?