Sharing Jewish culture through dinners and podcasts

Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches on rye. | Photo by Thanushi Eagalle

For anyone curious about Jewish food, The Chosen Supper Club can satiate. The Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. (JMABC) will be hosting 10 dinners at the museum on various Sundays from April to September. As part of the JMABC 2017 public programming series Feeding Community, these dinners, along with corresponding podcast The Kitchen Stories, will celebrate the important role of food in maintaining tradition and history.

Michael Schwartz, JMABC director of Community Engagement, says the Jewish community in Vancouver is diverse within itself, including its food traditions. He points out that, across Canada and North America, and in Vancouver, the Jewish community is one that arrived here from somewhere else. As the community moved from location to location, they have adapted their traditions to their environments. There are branches of Jewish community in the Lower Mainland from Morocco, India and China. He says although there may be a sense that the Jewish community is homogeneously Eastern European, that is not the case.

A German fruit cake accompanied by rugeleh, poppyseed cookies, chocolate and raspberries. | Photo by Thanushi Eagalle

“I think it’s important to do something that would help our community better acknowledge that and become more aware of one another’s traditions within the community. And at the same time, make it available for people outside our community so they can get to know the complexities of the community,” he explains.

Idea sprouts for food series podcast

Over the past few years, the museum has begun to put material, such as recipes, online. Schwartz said many people he knows like listening to podcasts, so he decided to use that format for this next project of exploring food: The Kitchen Stories.

“The root question is, why food? It struck me that food is a really important way people maintain tradition between generations in the family,” he says.

Each one of the episodes, or evenings, of The Chosen Food Supper Club, has a geographic focus. For example, one dinner will be a South African barbecue, another Sephardic cuisine of either Mediterranean, North African or Spanish style.

“Whether your family is Israeli or European or Syrian, you’re going to have different traditions on certain holidays. That’s what we want to learn more about – to get a greater awareness of the different traditions,” Schwartz says.

Syrian Jews

One of the hosts is Debbie Tabenkin, who considers herself a Syrian Jew. Although she wasn’t born in Syria, her father was and she is familiar with the Sephardic culture. For The Chosen Supper Club, Tabenkin will be preparing a traditional Aleppian Rosh Hashanah feast. The menu will include dishes that symbolize wishes for the New Year, including dates, apples, leeks, Swiss chard, gourd, black-eyed peas and pomegranate.

“Black-eyed peas in Hebrew is rubiah, which sounds like the word a lot or abundance. So the black-eyed peas symbolize a lot of merit because there’s so much of it or a lot of good deeds. So wish is that your New Year is filled with a lot of good deeds,” Tabenkin explains.

Tabenkin wants people who attend The Chosen Supper Club dinners to understand the Sephardic tradition. She also points out that most people may think of Jews as being from Eastern Europe, whereas many are not, such as the Sephardic Jews who originated from Spain.

“I like people to know from this that there’s a whole complete different tradition of Sephardic food and how we celebrate the holidays,” she says.

Schwartz says though it’s great for people to hear stories about and descriptions of the food, it would be a form of torture for listeners not to be able to try these delicacies.

“Food is obviously an experiential thing so we want to give people the opportunity to not just hear about it, but to actually experience it,” he says.

For more information on the dinners and to listen to the podcast, please visit