We may think we know everything there is to know about Jewish food, but Ilana Epstein, director of a new organisation called Ta’am (meaning taste) is set to bust some myths.
Epstein, who is rebbetzin at Cockfosters and New Southgate Synagogue, working with her husband Daniel, has launched Ta’am in a bid to excite people about Judaism – through food.
After living in Israel for a decade, during which she wrote a weekly food column for The Jerusalem Post, Epstein and her family returned to the UK four years ago. She worked for the United Synagogue, but realised that her passion for food, and researching the stories behind Jewish food, needed a wider audience.
She now works under the umbrella of the Jewish Futures Trust, headed by former Aish HaTorah director Rabbi Naftali Schiff. Her mission? “We want Jews to find their authentic Jewish voice through food memories, food traditions and a future filled with the warmth and nurturing that food at its best can provide.”
She adds: “Jews of all backgrounds always have a story about food, whether they are observant or assimilated.
“Some people will say by eating a bagel, that links them to their Judaism. But I discovered that the first mention of bagels is in the Jewish community records of Krakow in 1610, where it is recorded that bagels were given as gifts to a woman who had just given birth, and to her family”.
The first reference to cholent is at the time of the Second Temple, and its Sephardi version played an unfortunate part in alerting servants to denounce “crypto-Jews” to the Inquisition, as families who made food before sunset on Friday for consumption on Saturday were more than likely to be Jewish.
Ta’am is “an educational initiative with food”, says Epstein. She hopes first to establish a social media presence and then wants to teach the re-creation of Jewish recipes, both in schools and with young professionals.
Eventually, Ta’am hopes to be running kosher culinary tours. Epstein explains: “A combination of a heritage trip, where we find out about the people who once lived there, and the communities that still exist through their food.”
And, once the programmes are up and running, Epstein says she is confident it will be possible to fund young people who would like to work in the kosher food industry in the UK.