"Cravings:" Food and the Jewish experience

This weekend I went to the Central Square Theater to see Cravings: Songs of Hunger and Satisfaction, a cabaret set in a Jewish kitchen that explores themes of hunger, success, acceptance, nourishment, fame, and sex.  Cravings, starring cabaret artist Belle Linda Halpern, accompanied by Ron Roy, and directed by Sabrina Hamilton, was originally created to close the Ko Festival's 2008 series, themed on food.

As I entered the theater I was surprised to find myself in a Jewish kitchen. The only thing out of place was the piano. Belle Linda Halpern made charoset, and kibbitzed with us in between songs.  She even called on Ron to help peel apples. As a Jewish woman, I found everything in this show relatable. (Except, where did they find such a quiet food processor!?) But what struck me most of all was the connection Halpern draws between the Jewish craving for food and the craving for success and achievement.  

Halpern tells a story about starting a catering company as a teenager; both for the sake of her own career and interest, but also for her parents' approval.  In a Jewish family, success means a lot.  Success is a form of love.  A good Jewish son or daughter becomes successful out of love for his or her parents, to honor them, and to give them something to brag about on the phone.  And it works in the other direction too.  Jewish parents want the best for their children.  They want them to reach their potential, to be recognized for their brilliance and hard work, and to be financially and professionally secure.  For Jews, security is safety, and that is just as important as fame in our cravings for success.

But in a Jewish family, food is love. I grew up hearing this constantly. My grandmother, a survivor, was never very good at expressing her love through words or gestures, but boy did she feed us!  She seemed to take no greater pleasure in life than to watch us eat. Food is love. Success is love. We crave food the way we crave love, we crave love the way we crave success, and we crave success the way we crave food.

Cravings explores a number of other themes including nourishment and satisfaction, but the success/love/food comparison seemed to get at the heart of my own personal experience as a Jew. In the tradition of the Ko Festival, the show finished with a talkback with the audience.  I was struck by the stories people shared about cooking with their grandmothers, discussing food, love, ambition, memory, and tradition. Without a doubt, food is the basic element of the Jewish experience. It is inextricable from our prayers, our traditions, our rituals, and as Cravings demonstrates, the foundation of our ideas of nourishment, satisfaction, success, safety, and love. 

This leads me to a question.  Many Jewish organziations, including Tablet and MyJewishLearning feature dedicated sections of their websites to food, discussing history, tradition, new developments in Jewish food, and recipes.  Is this something you might like to see on the Jewish Women's Archive website?  Could food be a more prominent focus for JWA?  Should it be? (Is food a women's issue?)  Please leave a comment, we are curious to know what you think!

Cravings: Songs of Hunger and Satisfaction is still showing for another two weekends.  If you live in the Boston area, check out the Central Square Theater's schedule for dates and tickets.

Topics: Food, Theater
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Leah - great post! "Cravings: Songs of Hunger and Satisfaction" sounds like a really interesting show.
“Food, Jewish Women, Eating Disorders?" -
Research around eating disorders in the Jewish community has been done but studies regarding the prevalence are somewhat conflicting. However, according to one study, eating disorders affect one out of every 19 girls ages 14 - 16 in the Orthodox and Syrian communities, a rate that is 50% greater than in the general population. This suggests that the centralized role of food in Jewish heritage and traditions, including celebratory feasts and fasting, as well as stressors associated with the shidduchim may influence one’s relationship with food and weight. We recently wrote an entry about this topic, If you’d like to learn more feel free to check it out at http://eatingdisorder.org/blog...

Thank you for reviewing this show. I am going to go see it. Yes, selfishly, I am fascinated. I am interested in this link between Jewish women, food, and success. I would add the strange fourth element, eating disorders. How do these fit into our heritage? Many of my young female Jewish students periodically starve and binge. Many of my Jewish women friends struggle with food, weight, etc. Is there a particularly Jewish slant to women and eating disorders? I don't know, but after reading your thoughts, I think there might be. Now I want people who know more than I do to write about this!

Thanks for this post, Leah. It does seem that food is a central part of Jewish experience. There's a growing interest among Jews -- particularly young Jews -- in connecting our love of food with efforts to address food insecurity, food injustice, global hunger, and labor abuses in the food industry. These efforts have even evolved into a movement: The New Jewish Food Movement. A few examples of what's happening: Hekhsher Tzedek is a new certification of Kosher food built upon the commitment to protect workers, animals, and the Earth in food production. Organizations like Hazon are working on sustainable agriculture and maximizing local, organic food production in Jewish communal spaces and beyond. American Jewish World Service (AJWS) recently launched a campaign, Fighting Hunger from the Ground Up, to support the efforts of grassroots organizations in Africa, Asia and the Americas that are developing sustainable and creative solutions to alleviating hunger, advocating for indigenous communities' land and water rights, and equipping women with skills to produce their own food as a way to break cycles of poverty and oppression. So, the Jewish connection to food extends far beyond bubbe's chicken soup with matzah balls. Finally ... tomorrow, October 16th, is World Food Day. Many people in the Jewish community are putting their values into practice by taking action to address the global food insecurity crisis. You can join AJWS in TAKING ACTION, too.

I would love to see recipes detailing food from the 'The Old Country'. Forgive the spelling, but Gefiltte Fish, Chulunt, schmaltz, Kreplach, Borsht, Blintzes, Latkes (and I don't mean diet versions or Squash subsitutes!).

While not necessarily a diet for our modern times, no one of that Generation died from what they ate. If only.

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. ""Cravings:" Food and the Jewish experience." 14 October 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 17, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/cravings>.