I absolutely love to cook. It’s a love that has grown over several years, starting as I watched my mother make her annual gefilte fish from scratch for Rosh Hashanah (not from live fish she kept in the bathtub, like her mother did, but close enough). It expanded as I started to keep Shabbat in my teens, and flourished during the time I spent living steps away from the Machane Yehudah market in Jerusalem.
Cooking is something that connects me to every phase of my life so far, and I value it not only for the experience itself but as a thread that weaves together very different experiences and parts of my personality. The fact that I keep kosher now has at times complicated things, but has also increased the joy I get from translating different foods to my own cultural palate.
Since getting married, I’ve started hosting Shabbat dinners that are less potluck and more fancypants, which has translated into a couple incidences of complete exhaustion and panic, but also a lot of really creative moments and great fun. Exploring my culinary potential on a regular basis has led me to think about opening a restaurant some day, or starting a foodie website.
Now that I’m expecting a child, my love of cooking has translated into more than one moment where I find myself standing in the kitchen, barefoot (it’s more comfortable!), and pregnant. Sometimes this strikes me as funny, sometimes as a bit frustrating, and sometimes as more than a bit frightening. The reason why I find it scary is not that I think I have in some way become a living embodiment of one of the oldest stereotypes in the book. It’s also not that I’m worried that other people might perceive me this way (that falls more into the funny category). It’s that I start to think about the little person incubating in my belly, and how in a few short months he or she will, God willing, come out and meet me, and from that point forward he or she will get to know me as “Ema.”
Not as the person I was before I was Ema.
I think about the way that I perceive my own mother. I know quite a bit about my mom’s life P.C. (Pre Children) , but even now, as an adult and about to have a child of my own, I still think of my mom as the person that I have come to know through my own experience, not as the person she was before I existed.
My life thus far has taken a number of turns that make this an unsettling prospect. Now, in my twenties and married, I am a modern Orthodox woman, I work from home, and I love to cook. That package comes with its fair share of stereotypes and assumptions. But my package (as is the case with most people) is not so neatly wrapped. I grew up Reform and became more observant as a teenager. I’ve lived in South Africa and celebrated Shabbat in a tent in Namibia. For a time I worked in the Arab-Israeli town of Baqa el Gharbia, and shared tea and pistachios with hijab-covered grandmothers who lived next door. I have a degree in African history. I’m… all over the place. And I love being all over the place.
Recently I’ve made the choice to be less geographically mobile, work a full time job, and spend most of my free time with my husband and within our local synagogue and community. None of that means I feel less connected to the adventuresome part of my personality–to me, this is the expression of a different kind of adventure. But from the outside, and perhaps to the child I am bringing into this world, it might look like I came from a certain type of cookie cutter.
So how can I be the type of role model I want to be, a woman who appreciates diversity and loves to travel and also values Jewish community and stability, when only parts of that will be immediately evident to my future child? How do you get your kids to know you as a multifaceted person, that had a life and experiences before they were born?