Shabbat Shalom
Shabbat Terumah / 1 Adar 5775
Exodus 25:1-40| I Kings 5:26-6:13

This Shabbat, Steve Siegel shares 
Remembrance of Shabbos Past

"There is no festive celebration without eating and drinking."

-The Talmud

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."                              

- George Bernard Shaw


"You tasted it. Isn't that enough? Of what do you ever get more than a taste? That's all we're given in life, that's all we're given of life. A taste. There is no more."

- Philip Roth, The Dying Animal


In the Pew Research Center's 2013 study, "A Portrait of Jewish Americans," survey respondents were asked to identify what an essential part of being Jewish means to them from a given set of choices. The top two votes went to "Remembering the Holocaust" and "Leading an ethical and moral life" - probably not much of a surprise to anyone. But, what stood out to me was the overwhelmingly least popular choice - "Eating traditional Jewish foods." As a matter of fact, I've heard a number of talks given on the results of the Pew study where this choice was essentially laughed off as kind of a joke or summarily dismissed as somehow beneath the presumed seriousness of the issue of Jewish identity. Yet, I would argue that this is for many an extremely important and enduring component of their Jewish identity. Indeed, for me, the eating of traditional Jewish foods and the observance of Shabbat are inextricably linked to my Jewish identity. 

In my early childhood, my family had little interest in Jewish observance. However, on Friday nights, we gathered at my grandparents' house with close to twenty relatives and friends for a festive meal of homemade challah, chicken soup, roasted chicken, and other traditional foods. There were no prayers said nor other ritual observances -- just the immense pleasure of a delicious, satisfying meal at the end of a busy week shared with loved ones. This happened every Friday night without fail as my grandparents' dining room became a social gathering point for not only family and friends, but those with no other place to go like my grandfather's barber - a Holocaust survivor with no family. 

A love of traditional foods had always been an innate part of my family's shared experiences. My grandfather had a business delivering pickles to most of the delis and Jewish grocery stores throughout Chicago, while my grandmother was renowned for her cooking and baking using recipes passed down from my great-grandmother's childhood in a tiny Polish shtetl. Although no other traditions survived the shtetl for my grandparents, Friday night meals consisting of the delicacies their forebears ate endured.

But, life changes. My grandfather's untimely death at 53 abruptly ended the large Friday night gatherings and forced my grandmother to move into a small apartment. And shortly thereafter, my immediate family left Chicago and moved to Peoria, where we felt the sudden loneliness of being newcomers with no relatives or friends in the area. All the while, in our search for familiarity, we continued our Friday night meals of traditional foods. At the same time, the feeling of being a fish out of water propelled my parents to explore our Jewish identity and start to adopt a variety of Jewish observances. Our Friday night meals led to our beginning to light candles, say Kiddush and HaMotzi, and then regularly attend Shabbat services. Later on, when my mother passed away two months before my brother's Bar Mitzvah while I was a high school sophomore, Friday night meals became even more sacred as a way for my father, siblings and I to mourn our loss and keep the memory of my mother alive.

Now, every Friday night when I have my first taste of warm challah, it becomes my madeleine and I am transported in a Proustian reverie to those days half a century ago in my grandparents' house watching my mother help my grandmother in the kitchen. And I am grateful to be with my wife and children every week where we carry on the tradition of Friday night meals and continue to keep those memories alive. L'chaim!

STEVE SIEGEL has been active in the Beth Emet community since he and his wife, Dina Elenbogen, and two children, Sarina and Ilan, became members in 1999. He is a current Board member and regular attendee of weekly Kahal services. Outside of Beth Emet, Steve is an actuary and researcher working for the Society of Actuaries, a professional and credentialing association.

Each Friday during 5775, we are featuring writings from you, our congregants, sharing reflections on Shabbat. We hope you will be inspired to share your reflections with the community. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please contact Stacey Zisook Robinson
This Shabbat at Beth Emet

Friday, February 20
6:30 p.m. (5:45 p.m. Reception) Kabbalat Shabbat in the Sanctuary including Kavod L'morim: Honoring Beth Emet's Teachers. We will also recognize Nancy Fink's 30 years of dedication to our Religious Education Program. Tonight's service will also include a Memorial Plaque Dedication for the late Darlene Sokol presented to our congregation by David and Jodi Portnoy.

The Junior High Rock Band will also be participating in the service.

Saturday, February 21
9:00 a.m.  Tot Shabbat

9:30 a.m.  Minyan in Room 208
9:45 a.m.  Kahal Worship in the Weiner Room with Torah Reader Leonard Nelson and Torah Discussion Leader Arthur Altman

3:30 p.m. Beyond Om: Spiritual Practice for the Jewish Soul at Rabbi London's home.
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