Painting a Mosaic of Jewish Food with New Cookbook, ‘The Jewish Holiday Table’

In Judaism, there are often many divisions. Different tunes, customs, places we come from, and even differences in how many days a holiday is celebrated. But if there’s one thing that unites the Jewish people it is around a love for food.

The brand-new cookbook The Jewish Holiday Table by Naama Shefi and the Jewish Food Society, demonstrates the way food is a connector. It uses food as a lens through which we get to know 30 Jewish individuals around the world. Instead of separating different Jewish cuisines into boxes, this cookbook provides a glimpse into how global Jewish cuisine is. While chefs, writers, educators, and others passionate about food traditions provide the recipes and share their memories associated with each recipe, Shefi serves as a guide, narrating the origin stories of recipes and taking us from country to country.

Categorized by seasons, the cookbook follows the calendar of Jewish holidays. For instance, in the fall section Rottem Lieberson shares a full Persian menu for Rosh Hashanah, Erez Pinhas provides a Yemenite menu for breaking the Yom Kippur fast, and Ron Arazi includes a Moroccan menu for Sukkot inspired by his grandparents. The winter section focuses on delights for Hanukkah and Purim, varying from Italian Cassola (Cheesecake) to Danish Rice Pudding to Hungarian Fluden, all with their own unique connections to the holidays. The spring section highlights Sasha Shor’s rediscovered Soviet Passover seder recipes, Fany Gerson’s matzo ball soup which portrays her family’s migration from Ukraine to Mexico, and Dunce Pie (Cheese Souffle) from Bulgaria. Although the cookbook seemingly skips a summer section for Jewish holidays such as Lag BaOmer and Tu B’Av, a Shabbat section rounds out the cookbook.

Prior to each holiday section, Shefi expertly provides an overview of what each Jewish holiday celebrates and shares what some of the common traditions and food associated with each holiday are. Further, she includes her own story of growing up living on a kibbutz with communal dining hall eating, as a way for readers to understand how she became invested in the connection between food and their narratives. She explains that “most of [the] meals on the kibbutz were divorced from the cooks, their stories, and their traditions,” and today she wants to do everything she can to protect the legacy of cooks whose recipes tell the stories of their communities and Jewish experience (pages 8-9).

While the number of recipes provided by each individual in the cookbook varies, some with a full menu, and some with just one or two recipes, the cookbook sets you up for very convenient holiday planning from start to finish. Some of the recipes are long and feel very word-heavy, but stunning detailed photography accompanies each menu, providing a visual layout of all the dishes that bring the recipes to life more than the words themselves. The recipes are clearly filled with heart and are worth the extra effort often required.

Wonderful to use in the kitchen, The Jewish Holiday Table also functions as a global Jewish storybook perfect for a coffee-table read. If you want to learn more about what it means to be Jewish in the Diaspora, this cookbook is sure to help you explore from within the comforts of your own home.