Jewish Diversity: Learning About Our Families, Friends, and Communities Through Food Recipes - Lesson Plan for Youth
This lesson plan is part of a larger guide entitled “Jewish Diversity and Innovation: the View from the Kitchen.”
Note to teacher: Bring in a range of Jewish cookbooks to class, ideally those that tell stories about the recipes, and that explore Jewish cooking from a variety of places and styles. Depending on the size of your class, three of these may be enough.
- The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York, by Claudia Roden (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996)
- A Drizzle of Honey: The Life and Recipes of Spain’s Secret Jews, by David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson (St. Martin’s Griffen, 2000)
- Jewish Cooking in America, by Joan Nathan (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)
- The Jewish Heritage Cookbook: A Fascinating Journey Through the Rich and Diverse History of the Jewish Cuisine, by Marlena Spieler (Lorenz Books, 2002)
- Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South, by Marcie Cohen Ferris (The University of North Carolina Press, 2005)
- Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World, by Gil Marks (John Wiley & Sons, 2004)
Exploring the Jewish Culinary Tradition
Explain the following information to your class: In America, many “Jewish foods” are Ashkenazi-derived—they are foods which come from Germany, Central and Eastern Europe. Many similar foods are also eaten by non-Jews from these areas. However, Jews also come from the Middle East, North Africa, India, and Asia. Those whose families fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal are called Sephardim. Those from the Middle East and North Africa are called Mizrahim. Also, today, Jews come from a variety of other places, due to conversion, intermarriage, and adoption, and foods from these places have also joined the Jewish culinary palette.
Discuss the following questions with your students:
- What is your favorite Jewish food?
- What is your favorite Jewish holiday food?
- What do your parents or grandparents cook for holidays?
- Do they use recipes or do they just cook from their heads?
- Have they taught you how to cook any family specialties?
- What is your family’s favorite type of food? (ex. pizza, Italian, Greek, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, etc.) Do you cook these foods at home or only eat them at restaurants?
- Have you ever used any of these foods to celebrate a Jewish holiday? Can you imagine how you would fit them into the observance of a holiday in any way?
As a group, do a close reading this recipe for Moroccan Pumpkin Soup with Chick-peas to look for clues about Jewish history.
Ask if anyone knew there were Jews in Morocco. Talk about how Jews have been in Morocco since Roman times, and how Batsheva Levy Salzman moved from Morocco to Israel to America, bringing her recipe with her.
Invite your students to do their own sleuthing in small groups with the cookbooks you have brought to class. Have the students break into small groups, with each group looking at a different cookbook. Each group should pick out one or two interesting recipes to present back to the class. Encourage them to use the following questions to guide their investigation:
- Where did the recipe come from geographically?
- How might it have been modified over time and place?
- What’s interesting about this particular recipe?
- What does the recipe teach us about Jewish travels—what has remained constant and what has changed as we have moved around?
Jewish Diversity and Changing Traditions
Together, read the following excerpt of an essay called “Kimchee on the Seder Plate” by Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl. This story shows how Jewish recipes can be adapted today to fit our multicultural lives:
One year my mother put kimchee, a spicy, pickled cabbage condiment, on our seder plate. My Korean mother thought it was a reasonable substitution since both kimchee and horseradish elicit a similar sting in the mouth, the same clearing of the nostrils. She also liked kimchee on gefilte fish and matzah. “Kimchee just like maror, but better,” she said. I resigned myself to the fact that we were never going to be a “normal” Jewish family.
I grew up part of the “mixed multitude” of our people: an Ashkenazi Reform Jewish father, a Korean Buddhist mother.
Ask your students to respond to the story.
- What do they think of the idea of substituting kimchee for maror?
- Have they ever substituted a new food for any Jewish holiday observances? If yes, is this because there is a mix of cultures in their families?
- Why else might they substitute foods? Can they think of other possible Passover food substitutions?
In the story, Angela Warnick Buchdahl says, “I resigned myself to the fact that we were never going to be a ‘normal’ Jewish family.” Discuss:
- In your opinion, what does a “normal” Jewish family look like?
- Do you think teenagers often worry about whether their families are “normal” families?
Together, read the following story about another American Jewish family. Does it challenge anyone’s notions of what Jewish families look like? Jews from Morocco and other places often face discrimination in the United States.
When we first arrived in America [in the 1950s], my father went to the local synagogue and met with the board of directors. After expressing shock that Jews lived in remote Morocco, they kindly advised him to return to Africa, saying, “There’s nothing for your kind here.” My father came home furious, only to find me crying. That day, my teacher had asked me loudly, in front of the class, “Is it true you eat people in Morocco?” (“The Life and Times of Ruth and the Jungle,” Ruth Knafo Setton, in The Flying Camel, ed. Loolwa Khazzoom, 2003, page 5.)
Discuss the following questions:
- Can you imagine this ever happening at your own synagogue or your school? Why or why not?
- Have you or a friend of yours ever had a similar experience, because of being different in any way?
- Can you think of any examples from your own lives where you have noticed Jewish diversity?
- Are there differences among your extended family in terms of Jewish practice, keeping kosher, attending synagogue, etc?
- Have you ever been told that you are not Jewish enough, or that you are too Jewish? What does that mean? How does it make you feel? Is there such a thing as a “right way” to be Jewish?
- Do you have family members who are not Jewish or are from another culture? How does the diversity in your family affect how you celebrate holidays?
- What’s complicated about Jewish diversity? What’s valuable about it?
When people talk about diversity in the United States, they frequently talk about diversity between religions, cultures, and races. In the US we don’t often realize how much diversity there is within our Jewish community. In fact Jews live all around the world, there are Jews of all races, and we speak many different languages. We have a culture that comes from the Jewish religion, but we are also influenced by the local culture we live in.