The Shiksa Is Jewish!

Making my Declaration of Faith (photo by Peter Halmagyi)

In many ways, food brought me to Judaism. My fiancé was born in Israel; several years ago, he took me to visit his homeland for the first time. I was exposed to the incredible Israeli food culture, and I quickly fell in love with Jewish cuisine. I came back from that trip with a mission—to recreate the amazing flavors I’d tasted in our home kitchen. As I immersed myself in traditional Jewish cooking, learning to make dishes that are centuries old (and in some cases even older), I finally felt at home… like I was returning to a place that made my spirit happy.

Last Thursday, I completed that journey home by converting to Judaism. Surrounded by family, under the guidance of my rabbi, I embraced the Jewish faith. It was a powerful, beautiful day—one I will never forget.

This journey started back in college, long before I met my fiancé. I was not raised in a religion; my parents gave me the gift of choice when it came to spirituality. I’ve always known on a deep level that God exists, but the context for understanding my Creator was unclear. For many years I felt adrift, doing my best to find peace in the midst of chaos. Then I took a college writing course called “The Holocaust,” in which I was asked to examine this most heinous event in human history. Signing up for this class proved to be a life-altering choice. I was consumed by memoirs like “Night,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and “All but My Life.” I yearned to know the Jewish people better — to understand their faith, optimism and hope, even in the darkest of times. I left the class full of curiosity, my heart open and ready to learn more. It was the beginning of my spiritual awakening, a journey that finally came full circle last week.

For me, becoming Jewish is about joining a larger family and community. What drew me to the Jewish faith was the focus on family, tradition, and reaching out to help others in need. A big part of being Jewish is acknowledging a responsibility to your fellow humans by spreading positive energy in this increasingly complex world. I have accepted that responsibility, and it makes my heart very happy.

I’m sharing this experience with all of you, my Shiksa in the Kitchen community, because I feel that food is more than just sustenance. Food is a way of communicating; the energy we pass on through our cooking feeds the body as well as the soul. By writing this blog, and taking a journey into the history of food, I hope to spread positive energy. In the same way a good meal makes people happy, I hope that this blog… and the recipes and stories you find here… make you happy.

And guess what? I am learning right beside you. I am not a trained chef or a food critic or a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. I started this blog to learn more about Jewish food and food history. Consider this our shared virtual culinary classroom– a place where we learn not only how to cook delicious food, but how that food came to be in the first place. Every kitchen has a heritage; every recipe has a writer. Knowing the story behind the food– the ancient history, or the family history, or even the history of one particular ingredient– can infuse a dish with meaning. And then a meal becomes more than just food, something that fills you up physically. Food takes on a spiritual significance, and ultimately becomes more nourishing.

If you read my blog, you are probably somebody who loves food. That’s something we all share. A good meal can bring warmth and joy to anybody, no matter who you are or where you come from. I welcome all faiths and backgrounds to join me on my journey into the heart of food history. Our diversity makes us stronger!

As many of you know, the word shiksa means a non-Jewish woman. Some of you may be wondering, “Is she still going to be called The Shiksa In The Kitchen?” I answer that question with an enthusiastic yes! Historically, the word shiksa has been used in a derogatory way — meant to convey that the “shiksa” is somehow “less than” somebody born into Judaism. Rather than shy away from the word, I choose to let my background empower me. I have no shame that I was born a shiksa; I am exploring Judaism through the eyes of somebody newly reborn and thrilled to be part of the Tribe. I am happy that I was born a shiksa, it made me who I am today. Judaism is now my spiritual path, but I will never forget where I came from. Plus, “The Convert In The Kitchen” doesn’t sound quite as cute, does it?  ;)

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be blogging about Passover. Our family celebrates the Seder meal on Erev Pesach, the Eve of Passover. This year, it falls on March 29. In preparation for the Seder, I’ll be posting many new recipes and articles about the Passover experience. I look forward to sharing some amazing food ideas with you, and hearing your own Seder traditions as well. Please join me!

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Category: Kosher Food for Thought, Off the Menu

Comments (68)Post a Comment

  1. Elaine S. says:

    I found your blog about a year ago and find you a fascinating cook with wonderful stories . I have three grandchildren living in Ateret, Israel which is a yeshuv in the West Bank. The eldest is ten and the youngest is six. My ten year old granddaughter knows how to make and braid challah. I was told also that little girls also learn to crochet so that they can make keepa’s for their husbands. Sorry my son is not married to their mom anymore but I feel she’s another daughter.

  2. steven klein says:

    couldn’t put your story down – very moving and very emotional – you are so fortunate to have found your way in life when most others just ramble and find their way by accident. I salute you for your bravery, insight and compassion.

  3. Sushma says:

    I am from India and in our language Shiksha means EDUCATION. So in a way you are teaching people about cooking!!!

  4. Mar Eiah says:

    Hi…I am dating a jewish guy for a long time and i am planning to convert to judaism…but I have a 12 yr old daughter…how can I explain to her…we are Catholics. ..

  5. LYN COHEN says:

    Hi Tori,
    I have just read your story. I am very moved. I was converted 42 years ago. I didn’t have much affiliation to my former religion.I met my husband, and I was converted after we were married.The feeling was so incredibly amazing. I felt that I had just been born.I believe that Hashem had planned this all out. We had 37 years together. As I write this note to you it is his Yahrzeit today(8years). Since then, I have moved from my home to be near my kids & grandkids, and have taken up catering for Shabbats & Yomtovs. I feel wonderful.I shall certainly be reffering to your blog often.
    Be well.Lyn

  6. Anna says:

    I have always had the same interest in the Jewish people and even took Jewish Studies as a minor in college.
    Despite being a shiksa all my Jewish friends are convinced I’m Jewish and I suppose, if I wasn’t an atheist, I’d be a Jew.
    What an amazing committment you have made. I’m sure all your family must be very proud and happy you’ve found your own path. Although this all happened years ago I’d still like to say mazel tov.

  7. Bill Robinson says:

    I never understood why anyone would want to become a Jew. I am Jewish, both parents & all grandparents were Jewish, and there are few people less religious or more devout than I. I believe in G-d, speak to HIM (sorry ladies, my image of G-D is a noble man with long white hair and a neat but flowing beard) often, and tried to raise my children as believing Jews who were proud of their heritage and didn’t need to go to shul to prove they were Jewish.
    Reading these comments from people who converted to Judaism (welcome to the most difficult religion on the planet), I have seen nothing to change my mind that you gotta be crazy. But regardless, you all sound like terrific people and I welcome you all to our faith and our heritage. I would recommend a trip to Israel for all of you–then you will truly understand what a terrific group you have joined and will know that we ARE the Chosen People. Welcome!

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