My synagogue garden will be five years old this spring. That is how long it took to become a truly congregational enterprise, and not just a labor of love for me.
Step 1: Get Leadership On Board
Initially, I wanted to build the garden in the front of the shul. That was nixed by the board—which I am currently a third year member—and it was suggested that we put the garden behind the building, along the edge of the parking lot. And, It only took 1.5 years to get that far!
I was happy to have any space at all, and the rabbi built what became three garden beds over three years. It is not the most elaborate garden, but he built it with a seating ledge for comfort, which was a really nice touch, and considerate to those of us who spend the most time pulling weeds and planting vegetables.
Figs have long held my fascination. I grew up begging my mother for one more Fig Newton. Later, I had to stop myself from eating an entire container or bag of dried figs that my parents bought as a special treat. I often had to jockey with my dad for the last one.
In college, as part of a course called “The Palestinian-Israeli Confrontation” with Brandeis Univeristy Prof. Gordon Fellman, I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “My Father and the Fig Tree.” The poem was about the idea of home, and how a juicy, ripe fig was home to the narrator’s father. The poem resonated with me on many levels, including wondering how a fruit could call to you and bring you peace.
Last summer I had the opportunity to attend the Hazon Food Conference through the generosity of Pursue. As a full-time food justice community organizer at that time, I had considerable information floating around my head about sustainability, structural racism’s role in our food system and the path our food takes from farm to fork. What I didn’t know much about was knishes.
Our first night at the conference, we were afforded the opportunity to participate in any number of DIY workshops, and I headed straight for Laura Silver’s knishery. The table was laid out with lumps of dough and bowls of mashed potatoes seasoned with caramelized onions, salt and pepper; I dove right in!
Sometimes in Nashville, keeping kosher is about more than just the haksher (kosher symbol) on the packaging, it’s about finding the ingredients to begin with.
Last week, I was tasked with making a Tu B’Shvat treat with my Sunday School class. I had also promised the class that we’d make a dessert. I’m sure they had cake in mind, but I’m not one to settle for something as simple as cake. Besides, cake takes more than 40 minutes to make, and that’s all I get each week with the kids. That time is either spent in the kitchen, in the Shul’s garden (from which the mint for this recipe was picked), or doing crafts; next week we’re making decorations for the Shul’s fundraiser in March, “Shtetl Home Companion.” In and of itself, making a dessert is no big deal.
Generally, I give the Cantor my ingredient list, and he buys whatever is kosher and available. I frequently give him alternative ingredients, which is great, since I’m a “throw-a-little-of-this-or-that-in-there” kind of cook. Not being great at following recipes, it is fun to see what the Cantor is able to come up with on the fly. Barring that, it’s fun to get phone calls from him as he’s trying to describe what part of the grocery store he’s checking for my items.