In highschool, Alana Chandler interviewed six Chicago women for a Jews of Color cook booklet (booklet because it had less than 10 recipes) entitled Tzevayim (“colors” in Hebrew; accompanying video). She did this project as part of her Jewish United Fund’s Research Training Internship and felt inspired to expand it to a full length cookbook that not only shared unique Jewish food traditions, but also the experiences of Jews of color.
“Everyone loves food, so I thought that a cookbook would be a great hands-on medium to celebrate JoC identities.” Alana explains, her motivation to initiate the Tlaim: Patchwork cookbook project. “I also wanted to create space for Jews of color to share their experiences in an approachable and accessible way with community members who may not share these identity based experiences.”
Attempting to capture the complexities of global Jewish identities is a huge endeavor that can’t be done by just one person. Using her high school project as a proof-of-concept stepping stone, Chandler emailed Hillels and non-profit organizations across the country seeking other Jews of Color who were passionate about cooking and social justice.
She recruited three additional team members: Zandra Campbell, a Jamaican Jew attending Princeston; Arielle Mendel a Cuban Jew and Princeton graduate; and Jess Cohen, a Chinese Jewish undergraduate studying physics at MIT.
The team has joined their passion for cooking and the Jewish community and is currently reaching out to other Jews of Color from across the nation to share their recipes and stories.
“Very often growing up, and even now, I have felt insecure in my Jewishness and felt not Jewish enough being mostly surrounded by white Jews. Being POC [a person of color] there were times when I felt like I did not fit in with the rest of my community and that I did not belong,” explained Jess, of her motivation to join the Tlaim team. “When I heard about this project, I felt like this could be a space where I can both embrace my Jewish heritage and also my non-white heritage”
The “Tlaim:The Patchwork Cookbook” aims to celebrate the racial and ethnic diversity within the Jewish community and the myriad unique experiences with food as the recipe to connect Jews of Color, as well as the Jewish community as a whole.“Food is often the most accessible way to access other cultures. We all have to eat, so why not highlight the amazing peoples that inspire these diverse food traditions.” said jess, “The hope is that this community cookbook will help relieve the pressure that many JoC feel to conform to the exclusively white-Ashkenazi standards in Jewish communities by inspiring readers to embrace the breadth of expression of a multicultural Jewish community.”
Be’chol Lashon estimates that 20% of America’s 6 million Jews identify as Black, Asian, Latinx, Mixed-race, Sephardi, or Mizrachi. Despite this number many non-white Jews struggle to feel connected in spaces characterized primarily by the Eastern European immigrant experience.
“I’ve always found it odd that only Eastern European / Ashkenazi foods have been considered Jewish foods. Growing up, I didn’t eat cholent or gefilte fish, so I thought that meant I didn’t eat Jewish foods,” said Arielle. “This project has already made me more aware of the fact that any food can be considered a Jewish food.”
“Cookbooks are by no means miracle bandaids to heal all our community’s ills,” added Alana, “but the stories we share over food are an approachable means to confront issues in our community to evoke meaningful changes in perspective.”
Want to share your favorite recipe? See submission instructions.