When I arrive at the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC in the late afternoon, there are already two sesame spinkled, gleaming loaves of challah ready and the kitchen smells of roasting chicken and fragrant rice with a pop of lemon. Sara Ciacci, Leonor Etkin, Claire Hammer, Debbie Kafka and artist Derya Akay have been hard at work putting together a Shabbat dinner as part of Mantι, Börek, Baklava and The Chosen Food, a collaboration between the Contemporary Art Gallery and the Jewish Museum & Archives of BC.
Hosting the dinner at an archive feels oddly appropriate. Both the women and Akay are drawing from their own archives in the preparation of the dinner—archives formed through experience, conversation and memory.
Leonor leads us through making the dough for challah reminding us that a portion of the dough is set aside and burnt as an offering. Guests and collaborators share their own experiences of making challah as they roll the strands of dough. Some strands are twisted and knotted, other formed into the iconic braid, and each brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Once fresh out of the oven, the challah is served with chopped liver and herring. I had never had challah or herring before and the combination of the tender strands of challah and the tangy, bright, creamy herring was delicious.
The challah was followed with matzo ball soup and the main course: sumac-rubbed chicken on a bed of lemon and turmeric infused rice, steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes.
As the night wore on, it became clear that food was not simply an expression of faith but a gesture of love for one’s community and a desire to see future generations share in these rituals.
For more information on the Jewish Museum & Archives supper club The Chosen Food, please visit their website: http://jewishmuseum.ca/program/the-chosen-food/