The Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins the evening of March 27, honors and celebrates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt. Every year, we read the Haggadah (the text that guides the seder, the ceremonial dinners that mark the first two nights of the holiday) and are asked to remember our people’s bondage. But we’re also called to do something more: to acknowledge and support the many people around the world who remain enslaved or lack our everyday freedoms.
“It’s this call to action of recognizing the challenges and the limitations in our time to say, ‘Yes, we experienced this in the past, but our brothers and sisters are experiencing this right now somewhere else,’ so how can we use our platform to help shed light on their struggles?” says Amy Weiner Weiss, director of festivals for Mizel Arts and Culture Center, part of the Jewish Community Center Denver (JCC Denver). “How are we creating space for people of different diaspora traditions at our table so we can be more mindful of other people’s struggles and other people’s journeys?”
Weiss is responsible for planning the organization’s annual JAAMM (Jewish Arts, Author, Movies and Music) Festival. Typically a fall affair, the pandemic hastened an already-in-the-works shift into a seasonal, nearly yearlong series of virtual events.
The spring lineup includes plenty of food-inspired flair. First up is a conversation with Michael Twitty (March 24). The African American–Jewish culinary historian and James Beard Award-winning author (for The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South) will talk about Passover and the “shared narratives of diaspora and exodus between the African American and Jewish communities.” The event is intended to build a bridge between cultures, Weiss says, and connect Jewish and African American food traditions and experiences. Twitty has previously reimagined the seder plate—the centerpiece of the Passover meal that holds symbolic ingredients—with items that are meaningful to the Black community such as collard greens and hoecakes.
Chef and cookbook author Einat Admony (who operates three restaurant concepts in New York City and Washington, D.C.) is another culinary superstar—one who helps showcase Jewish and Israeli food well beyond cliché bagels and brisket. Admony will host a cook-along of three springtime dishes on April 7: chopped avocado and kohlrabi salad, chicken tagine, and vegan malabi (a Middle Eastern custard similar to panna cotta). All are from her cookbook, Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking. Admony brings a “more global, diverse Jewish perspective” to what Jewish food is, Weiss says.
Admony was born and raised in Israel to a Yemeni dad and a Persian/Iranian mom. “It’s really important to me to embrace how I grew up,” Admony says. “Jewish food and especially the perspective of Jewish food in America is Ashkenazi food. [Ashkenazi refers to Jews whose families originally hailed from Eastern Europe.] When we talk about Israeli cuisine, it’s a lot of influence from Arab countries around us. It’s a mix between Jewish cuisine and the local ingredients and the influence from our neighbors.”
Event attendees will receive the recipes and a shopping list in advance and can prepare the meal alongside the chef as she shares tips and tricks. (Don’t worry if that sounds overwhelming or if you forget an ingredient: The recording will be available for two weeks after, giving you plenty of time to try the recipes.)
The goal of every JAAMM event is to bring people together. “Whether you’re Jewish or Jew-ish or just an ally or friend wanting to learn about this culture, it’s an open door, an invitation for people to come and learn something new or learn about why certain cultural identities or certain holidays are important,” Weiss says. “It’s an opportunity for people to learn about Jewish culture in, hopefully, a way that is entertaining first.”
JAAMM’s 2020-’21 season continues into June with monthly author lectures.
Find tickets ($18/household) here for Michael Twitty’s March 24 lecture; the livestream begins at 7 p.m. but will be available to view for two weeks.
Chef Admony’s cook-along begins at 7 p.m. on April 7; tickets are $12/household and available here. If you’re not able to join live, the video will be available for two weeks.