Today’s blog post was written by Jocelyn Goldberg, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9 months in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rizhon LeZion.
Jocelyn (on the left) with Yahel Fellows exploring Rishon LeZion
When I first arrived in Ramat Eliyahu, I was already thoroughly familiar with Ethiopian cooking. I had established my favorites in Montreal, where I frequently went to an Ethiopian restaurant and had classic dishes like spicy berbere lentils, kitfo, and doro wat. I was excited to learn how Diasporic Ethiopian cuisine in Canada differed from Jewish Ethiopian cooking. Living in a neighborhood filled with fragrant spice shops and Ethiopian families who had perfected their injera for generations, I knew that I had lots to learn and was ready to get my hands dirty when I arrived for Shabbat at my host family’s home in October.
Classic Ethiopian dishes served on ingera
Ambitiously, my first Shabbat dinner at my host family’s home was also my first foray into learning how to make Ethiopian food. I was overwhelmed, not only because my Hebrew was too minimal to be able to communicate, but because I didn’t how best to help or how to ask questions. I learned how to use body language to ask what I should or should not do, and tried to ask basic questions about what my host mother was preparing. I learned that each family’s spice mix differs slightly, and is passed down from generation to generation. The spices were so fragrant, and each dish featured an assortment of colorful vegetables, potatoes, and meats. I loved the powerful and warming spices that can be found in most Ethiopian dishes, and hoped to bring those spice mixes into my own cooking. Moreover, I loved helping to prepare foods that celebrated Ethiopian culture and help continue those traditions here in Israel. I watched my host mother prepare baskets full of traditional Ethiopian breads like injera and dabo, as well as a variety of rice dishes. I chopped copious amounts of garlic and cilantro, while keeping an eye on the chicken and lentils that were simmering.
the synagogue across the street from Jocelyn's apartment in Rishon LeZion
On the evening of Shabbat, I sat down with my host family to taste what we had worked so hard to prepare earlier that afternoon. Everything is eaten with injera, which makes for easy and casual sharing of lots of dishes. The spices blend into one another on the injera, making each of the dishes complementary. There was so much variety in the vegetable, bean, and meat dishes that were served, which I was lucky to try all of. I felt lucky and honored to be included on a special time of the week reserved for unwinding and spending time together as a family. Moreover, I loved partaking in a ritual that felt both familiar and different, where I could learn about Ethiopian Jewish culture and feel close to my own traditions too.