The Jew­ish Hol­i­day Table: A World of Recipes, Tra­di­tions & Sto­ries to Cel­e­brate All Year Long

  • Review
By – March 27, 2024

Food is a pow­er­ful medi­um. It feeds us body and soul, nour­ish­ing us and allow­ing us to more eas­i­ly con­nect with sto­ries past and present. As Stelle Hanan Cohen explains in The Jew­ish Hol­i­day Table, Every mouth­ful is a piece of history.”

Sev­en years after Naa­ma She­fi estab­lished the Jew­ish Food Soci­ety (JFS) with a mis­sion to pre­serve these his­to­ries (and their often pre­vi­ous­ly unrecord­ed recipes!), she has cre­at­ed this beau­ti­ful and heart­felt cook­book, full of fla­vors and mem­o­ries from across the Diaspora.

The Jew­ish Hol­i­day Table con­tains sto­ries, hol­i­day menus, and recipes from thir­ty dif­fer­ent con­trib­u­tors. While many are culi­nary pro­fes­sion­als, their recipes are quite acces­si­ble and adapt­able. Each menu is pre­ced­ed by an endear­ing sto­ry about the grand­par­ents who safe­guard­ed these foods and intro­duced them to the next gen­er­a­tions. The sto­ries pull us in, encour­ag­ing us to try these recipes out and put our own spin on them. As the grand­moth­er of coau­thor Devra Ferst acknowl­edges, Every chef in New York makes [gravlax] some­what dif­fer­ent­ly.” She’s inti­mat­ing that Ferst — and, by exten­sion, we read­ers — can feel com­fort­able mak­ing mis­takes until we find our per­son­al approach.

Recipes aside, this JFS cook­book is gor­geous. Most every recipe has an adjoin­ing pho­to that is lus­trous yet haymish. The images reaf­firm that these dish­es could have eas­i­ly come from our grand­par­ents’ kitchen, wher­ev­er in the world that is. The book gives us the sense that serv­ing these foods will bring us and our fam­i­ly joy, whether we are intro­duc­ing a new dish or recre­at­ing a tra­di­tion­al food that was lost in our family’s migration.

When Bee­jhy Barhany, the chef/​owner of Tsion Café in New York City’s Harlem neigh­bor­hood, explains that dabo—an Ethiopi­an Jew­ish Shab­bat bread — has been trav­el­ing with us through­out all our jour­neys and our lives,” she demon­strates why JFS has pub­lished this cook­book: to teach us how the foods we eat help pre­serve and strength­en Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and history.

Avery Robin­son is a Jew­ish non­prof­it pro­fes­sion­al liv­ing in Brook­lyn. In his spare time, he free­lances as an edi­tor, culi­nary his­to­ri­an, cofounder of the cli­mate change non­prof­it Rye Revival, and man­ag­er of Black Roost­er Foods. His writ­ings have appeared in Mar­gin­a­lia Review of BooksJerusalem PostTablet­Mag, and The For­ward.

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