This evening I’m literally home for dinner – back in my parents’ home, eating, for the first time in a while, my mother’s cooking. It feels good to be back, and it’s a reminder not only that food begins with family but that, to a considerable extent, family begins with food. (For my birthday this year Liz bought me a hand-mincer, so that I could make chopped-and-fried fish the way my Grandma did – I was using electric things to mince the fish and it wasn’t coming out right. When I opened the package my face lit up; and it was of course not merely about the thing – the mincer itself – but the immediate emotional associations I had with my Grandma, who died ten years ago.)
So this seemed like a particularly good moment to talk about Hazon’s Home For Dinner program, which the amazing Vicky Kelman kicked off in San Francisco a couple of years ago. Vicky is a nationally-beloved Jewish Family Educator, and her thinking about families and our focus on food naturally led us to the Home For Dinner program. Backed by the Covenant Foundation, it’s an initiative designed for 5th graders and their families in synagogue schools. Its goal is to get families to eat dinner together more often, and to enhance and enrich that experience for those who already do eat together regularly. Shared family meals have long been seen both as a characteristic of strong families and as an “opportunity space” (Elinor Ochs) for building a strong family in the future. And strong families, of course, are vital if we’re to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community, and a healthier and more sustainable world for all.
To give you a flavor of what the program is like, let’s start with these questions:
- What’s the difference between eating “food” and eating “a meal?”
- What do you think about the idea of parents hiding vegetables in mac-and-cheese or brownies or other foods in an effort to get their kids to eat healthy foods?
- How could or should we honor the mitzvah of “leket and pe’ah” (gleaning and leaving the fallen fruits for the poor) today?
- Why would a hasidic teaching hold that people should be buried in a coffin made from the wood of their family dinner table?
- Why make the effort to eat dinner together?
These are not just questions for those of you reading this email; they’re just a few of the questions that parents and kids participating in “Home for Dinner” programs discuss with each other. (And, yes, in an ideal world, such an initiative might not be needed, but in the world that we actually do live in there’s now a slew of evidence that families indeed need help and encouragement to eat together, just as we all need help and encouragement to, for instance, switch off all of our gadgets one day in seven.)
The idea is that in addition to the golden opportunity to talk about meaningful things together, families have a chance to share family food stories, and to think about things like taking care of one’s body (shmirat haguf) or involving themselves in food justice as a natural extension of being Jewish; of being the heir to a people that, for three thousand years has asked is such-and-such fit (kosher) to eat…? The family dinner table is a launching pad for crucial life skills and values: family history, conversation skills, listening skills, appreciation (brachot), taking care of the earth, manners (derech eretz), kashrut, current events, shared problem solving, to name just a few. Home for Dinner is helping families to see the potential to transform the ordinary into the significant: to transform “food ” into “the family meal.”
As a formal program, Home for Dinner has just begun its third school year. We started with three Bay Area synagogue schools in year one. We added another three in the second year. We now have seven in the Bay Area, six in the Boulder-Denver area and at least six in the New York area joining Home for Dinner in January. (Click here to see a list of participating schools.)
Fifth grade teachers use ten lessons from Min HaAretz, Hazon’s classroom-focused Jewish food curriculum, in parallel with between three and six “family labs.” The classroom activities and family experiences include text study, storytelling, music, drama, cooking, eating, composting, planting and building. We’ve seen from comments that participants have made that it’s been a pretty powerful experience for many people.
If you’re interested in utilizing Home For Dinner in your community in the future, then be in touch with Liz Traison at email@example.com. We’d also love to hear from you if you have suggestions or ideas – things you do with your kids or your family at dinner, conversations you’ve had, questions you’ve asked, meals you’ve cooked together, projects you’ve worked on. And – of course – whether you’re formally part of a home for dinner program or not, I hope especially that you’ll be inspired to cook and eat together a little more with those whom you love.
And with that: Mom, what’s the recipe for Grandma’s chopped liver….?
Executive Director, Hazon
Liberty, Food & Justice for All
Join us this Sunday with Philadelphia-area foodies, rabbis, chefs, farmers, vegans, and omnivores alike to learn, explore, and celebrate the intersection of healthy food, sustainability, and Jewish life. The day’s activities include a panel discussion and keynote speech led by Senator Daylin Leach, DIY skill shares on beekeeping and healthy eating, and sessions on food justice, Torah, and Being Jewish in Philadelphia. There will be a dynamic shuk (market) for your enjoyment. Be a part of the 1st Annual Hazon Food Festival in Philadelphia and make history.
Registration Fees: $36 Adult, $18 Children, Student (with valid ID), & Seniors (62+).
Sunday, October 20th, 9:30am – 5:30pm
615 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA
Nearing it’s 10th year, the Hazon CSA network is 70 CSA’s strong! Do you already belong to a CSA in your community? Consider joining the Hazon CSA network to community-building program ideas, one-on-one support from Hazon staff, monthly training calls, and a chance to connect with other CSAs across the country. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Come out for a fun-filled day at Ekar Farm, Colorado’s only Jewish urban farm. The Boulder and Denver JCCs are inviting families to connect with the earth, Jewish values, and one another while harvesting wholesome, organic food for local food pantries. Volunteer on the farm, make take-home worm composting bins, and enjoy a farm tour. Learn about the many varieties of vegetables grown, the recipient agencies that receive this food, and what makes Ekar a Jewish farm.
Sunday, October 20, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. at Ekar Farm
NY: Greening Seminar: Building Community and Consciousness During the Shmita (Sabbatical) Year
With one year until the next Shmita, plan now for ways your community can renew this ancient tradition. This seminar is an opportunity to think about the types of programs and services that your agency or synagogue can provide to put the Shmita principles of nurturing community and sharing resources into action.
Tuesday, October 29th – 10:15 am – 12:30 pm
UJA-Federation of New York – 130 East 59th Street
For more information and to register, please click here.