“The dining table is a holy place.
It connects us not only with the people
seated around it, but also with the past.”
On a drizzly Thursday in the Community Kollel located above the infamous Kosher restaurant, Maple Grill, Alisa and I sat down with Rabbi Shmulik to talk about his experiences with food.
When Rabbi Shmulik arrived to Vancouver from Israel in 2000, he noticed a lack of opportunities for Jewish young adults to connect in the city. How could this young generation in the community be brought together in an environment that allowed them to organically expand into a diverse network? Is it any surprise that Rabbi Shmulik found the answer in food?
Every Friday night, Rabbi Shmulik and his wife, Rivki, would host a Shabbat dinner in their home and invite members of the young adult Jewish community to join them. “For a family to sit down and eat, that is something you must take the time to create” Rabbi Shmulik tells us, reflecting on how important Shabbat dinners were in his childhood for establishing this sense of connection.
Hosting a Shabbat dinner is a means of creating a sense of home. Vancouver is a city that draws many people from elsewhere, be it internationally or nationally. Many young people in Vancouver can therefore appreciate the sense of home that is created by having a reliable place in which to partake in a Shabbat dinner. Rabbi Shmulik continues his tradition of bringing the Jewish young adult community together by having weekly Shabbat dinners at the Kollel.
Rabbi Shmulik explains that the dining table is a holy place. It connects us not only with the people seated around it, but also with the past. Food tells the stories of those who came before us, and when we respect those stories at the table where we eat, our body and soul comes together.
We were interested in the differences that Rabbi Shmulik encountered between his childhood in Israel and the food culture on the West Coast of Canada. “My mother would be very shocked to find I am eating spinach” he tells us, as he comments on the plenitude of green and fresh vegetables in the West Coast.
That West Coast healthy lifestyle is incorporated in the Kollel’s shabbat dinners. Different types of salads and vegetarian dishes are always an option. When asked whether there were particular Israeli ingredients or recipes that he incorporates into his famous Shabbat dinners, Rabbi Shmulik candidly replies, “If there’s one Friday night without hummus I get very angry reactions.” He admires that people on the West Coast like to try new things and tells us that, in order to make Shabbat dinner interesting you can’t stick to the same menu every time, “We do have a lot of Israeli-style food, the most favourite one is the Hummus, with Zatar and Olive oil.”
Before leaving we told Rabbi Shmulik that we had heard of a special sought-after recipe for his cholent, “Ah yes, my brother downstairs makes the cholent, it is very good but it only tastes well on Shabbat” he smiles. He went on to mention that cholent isn’t actually that hard to make. Perhaps the secret lies in tasting and appreciating the food during Shabbat, with a flavour that only comes when one is relaxed, attuned. If cholent is as easy to make as Rabbi Shmulik claims, what is the secret to making a cholent worth talking about? Alisa and I are eager to enter the kitchen of the Maple Grill and observe Rabbi Shmulik’s brother to hopefully discover this secret. We’ll report back shortly with our findings!
Alisa Lazear and April Thompson are JMABC Museum Assistants for summer 2016. Through the course of the summer, they will be researching the ways that food plays an integral role in continuing family traditions within our community. If you would like to contribute to this project, or be interviewed for it, please contact the JMABC office at 604.257.5199. Alisa and April’s positions have been made possible through the generous support of two programs offered by the Canadian Government: Canada Summer Jobs and Young Canada Works.