A mirror of culture

Hillel’s Shabbat dinner reminds us that we are what we eat

By Shalmali Ghate
Scarlet Staff

Anthropology is the study of human nature, culture and origin through combining knowledge from social, biological, human and physical sciences.

Socio-cultural anthropologists examine social patterns and practices across cultures by observing and studying the society, gender difference, class differences, government, nation, race, sex and of course food.

Certainly, learning a different language opens up a huge opportunity to identify with the culture of the land. However, learning a new language takes continuous dedication and hard work.

Is there a better way to study and explore different cultures of the world? Indeed there is.

One of the easiest and effective ways is through food.

People often do not think about it as a learning process because food is considered to be a part of the pleasure of life so habitually we tend to think that learning is incompatible with pleasure and fun. On the contrary it is important to realize that food is a form of cultural representation.

The Sabbath dinner organized by Hillel gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore the Jewish community, practices, customs and traditions.

David Coyne, Director of Hillel at Clark University said that the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) is a day of rest, of cessation from work, and is a weekly celebration, mostly understood to be the holiest of Jewish holy days, even though it takes place every week.

This day attributable to two different events in the Hebrew Bible (Torah, also known as the Five Books of Moses). In one instance it is described as an imitation of the actions of God who, according to scripture, created the world in six days and rested from work on the seventh day.  It is also a reminder of the biblically described experience of slavery or forced work that was imposed upon the Hebrews in ancient Egypt. The scripture tells that it is a day of rest not only to people but also to animals. Something of note is that all Jewish days, not only the Sabbath or holy days, begin before sunset in the early evening as evening is believed to be the beginning of the day.

At the dinner, it was interesting to observe how the meal started: food was served beginning with the prayer, followed by grape juice and challah (braided ritual bread).

This was followed by a delicious dinner which included authentic Middle Eastern food like falafel, tahini sauce, hummus, Israeli salad, pita bread and olives.

Such occasions besides providing a delectable food also act as a learning process. Olives verified its usage in the Middle Eastern diet which can be referred to the history which says originally they were grown only in Middle Eastern countries.

Each dish on the menu could narrate different aspects of Jewish culture. On the whole it was a fun-filled delicious learning experience.

It is amazing how the cultural diversity on campus can bring great learning experiences which help us learn about different cultures and traditions.