It could be argued that every Jewish experience is tied up with food. The old joke goes like this: every holiday can be summarized as “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat”. Each important Jewish experience arrives on the calendar with a specific food connection or prohibition coming from our cultural tradition or from the Torah itself. Food, it has been commented, provides us with a sensory touchstone for the deeper meaning of each holiday.
About 6 years ago our friend Naomi (a gifted Jewish educator) began inviting friends to join her for Shabbat. We would gather at her house for a potluck dinner and listen to her analysis of the weekly Torah portion. Our group represented the entire spectrum of religions, economic backgrounds, ages and experiences. Because it was potluck, and because as many as 40 people were invited, Naomi would assign “the regulars” a food category to bring each week.
The week before we read “Toldot” (where Esau trades his birthright for “red red stuff”), Naomi jokingly asked everyone to make sure their food assignment included something red.
The response was as overwhelming as it was unexpected. Most of us didn’t speak Hebrew. Many of us had never read the Torah for ourselves. But in this assignment we found something we could do and understand. Like the Israelites who were asked to bring donations for building the Mishkan, and brought so much that Moses had to tell them to stop, we brought and brought and brought! In giving a food assignment linked to the portion, we discovered an aspect of Torah that we could latch onto, to participate in fully, to be a part of.
As the weeks progressed and themed assignments continued, it became a personal challenge to see who could bring the most interesting, unexpected, creative entry based on the theme of the week. Along the way, something else happened. We all became engaged in Torah itself. The food assignment led us to think about the weekly portion. How did the assignment fit in? Was the theme applicable to the entire portion or just one incident? Could we extend the assignment, by making our offering apply to more of the parasha than was originally intended?
“Torah Study” was initially Naomi’s weekly analysis and a few sparse comments from brave souls. After the themes started, everyone would take time to explain how the food they brought met the criteria of the assignment. And then, almost inevitably, someone would say “Yeah, but what I still don’t understand is…” and the discussions would start.
We began to realize how unique our experience had become. Many people we knew celebrated Shabbat, either as a family or with friends. But none described the absolute frenzy of ideas around the table, the assault of foods, the sense of community.
And so we finally arrive at the reason for this web site.
Maybe you would like a way to involve friends and family in a shared Sabbath experience. Perhaps you want to connect to the text of the Torah in a more tangible way but find it all too daunting and inaccessible.
This site can be your guide – an ongoing diary of of summaries, analysis, projects and (most importantly) themes tied to the weekly cycle of Torah. Use it as a guide or simply as a basis for your own, even greater idea.