By: Michele Amira Pinczuk, IATG Contributor April 6, 2016
The smell of grape juice, wine, and the glimmer of Shabbos candles to this day are comforting on Fridays. Although I’m 22 and drink wine on Shabbas now instead of grape juice, memories of drinking grape juice out of wine glasses while spending time with bubbie Fania still bring comfort to me. I can still smell the aromatic scents of dill, feta cheese, olive oil, and matzah ball soup while listening to my Dad and Aunt debate politics, a tradition that continues to this day. Fania’ s cooking was her history, one my cousin Renee has carried on by making Jewish food trendy at Sixth & I, the historic synagogue where she is head chef.
I always enjoyed the time I spent with my grandma growing up.
When I look at pictures of when she was younger she looked like a Russian supermodel. I inherited her laugh- a distinctively high pitched giggle that can quickly escalate to a belly-fueled cackle. Connection was easy then for all of us.
So often my grandma would force feed me even when I was trying to get skinnier. Her Eastern European sensibilities did not understand my dieting. Bubbie Fania’s kitchen was sacred; she never shared her recipes. My mother and aunt were left playing a guessing game of how to make her treasured matzah ball soup after she fell so ill she had to be in hospice. She feared being irrelevant.
Her cooking was her way of expressing her need for connection. Now the women in my family are creating their own versions of her recipes, keeping her memory going.
This past Shabbat I tried my hand at making her Macarona Bechamel- a pillar of Jewish comfort food. Descending from Greece and spreading in Egyptian, Greek, Israeli and Ashkenazi kitchens like wildfire, this dish is traditionally a casserole, baked in a thick layer of cumin scented tomato sauce and butter over pasta. Egyptian indulgence at its finest. It used to be my favorite of Bubbie’s dishes. As a vegan I cannot eat Macarona Bechamel anymore because of the feta, yet the scent and smell of it is still soothing and brings back many wonderful memories of my Bubbie who I have missed so much.
I do not cook, but instead help my mother make Bubbie Fania’s macarona bread. I sprinkle the feta on the bread. I am reminded of how important it is to connect to one’s roots. My mother says, “There is always more to learn from the resolve of the human spirit. The power of culinary traditions is one of our most creative, nourishing mediums.”
There is always more to learn and to do to keep the spirit of the Shabbos and family.
What are some rituals or traditions that are important to your heritage? How are you honoring them or keeping them alive today? What have you discovered about yourself and your family through these experiences?
Michele Amira Pinczuk is a vegan dancer with a love of Carole’s Daughter hair products, hoop earrings, hip-hop, and New York pizza! She is a hip hop journalist who loves writing about the newest in natural curly hair products, hipster fashion and hip-hop mixtapes. Her writing has appeared on Fran Dresher’s We The Future Cancer Schmancer blog, The New York Times and JVibe Magazine. When she’s not writing about what’s hot in hip hop, she’s talking about it on her hip-hop radio show, The Mecca, at University of Maryland where she is a Creative Writing major.
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