from “Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food”, to be published 12/14 by Random House
Food is an honored guest at every significant event in each Jewish life.
Notwithstanding where we live, regardless of our race, irrespective of the God we believe in or deny, the solitary certainty that holds true for Jews is that no major moment is observed without a heaping helping of traditional dishes that nourish our bodies and souls.
I have been lucky enough, in my work as a Rabbi, to share in so many meaningful moments in people’s lives. As I reflect on those experiences (eighteen years of which took place in New York), I realize it is more than religion and ritual—and even food—that unites these remarkable markers in the life of a Jew. I have come to learn that Smoked Salmon is omnipresent in Jewish life.
When we usher a new soul into the world, we Jews have a weird way of welcome: we circumcise the poor little boy in elaborate rite replete with shouts of “Mazal tov”. Perhaps the only thing an unknowing observer might find more peculiar than this strange ritual is that—moments after the ceremonial bloodletting—the whole family blesses bread with the words of hamotzi and then digs in to catered trays layered with lox and bagels.
Bagels and lox are the expectation at every bris and baby naming. Likewise, prepared platters of smoked fish are de rigeur for every synagogue social hall into which a famished congregation walks following a bar mitzvah service. As guests in black tie walk away from the wedding Huppah towards the cocktail hour, they are greeted by frozen bottles of vodka served astride caviar, blini, and gravlax. And, when mourners return home from the cemetery to observe seven days of shiva, the same catered trays once served at a bris greet them, letting them know the circle of life has come complete.*
Food comforts. Food roots us in our past as we face our future. Food is inseparable from identity. This everyone knows is true.
My job is to persuade people the same can also be true with religion.
[*] Lox is even purported to be our eternal reward: Our Sages of the Talmud imagined that smoked fish [specifically, Leviathan] was served to those who merited the World-to-Come.