THE ABCs of Jewish Life

By Amian Frost Kelemer
Macks Center for Jewish Education

My latest issue of Bon Apetit arrived this afternoon. After spending the day tending to a sick baby and the evening with loads of laundry and dishes and an oven full of holiday preparations, I finally sit down around 1:00 a.m. While waiting for the quiche to cool, I zip off the plastic mailer bag and crack open the issue. Perusing the articles, I flip open a page and a bright red caption catches my eye: it is a quote from the African American chef pictured, and it starts with “Man, I love cholent!” This definitely gives me pause. I read on and learn that Chef Maxcel Hardy works for NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire. Stoudemire has a penchant for kosher food.

The article states: “Last summer, Amar’e announced to Hardy that he was interested in learning more about a kosher diet. A recent trip to Israel had strengthened Stoudemire’s spiritual feelings- and focused his ideas about diet.

“I have a Hebrew background, and I read the Torah, which really explains the proper way to eat. I spent a week in Israel just studying … From an athletic standpoint, I figure if you want to have a strong body, why not eat kosher?” Stoudemire explains in the article.

Really? If I ever have occasion to meet Stoudemire, I probably won’t enlighten him about the healthful wonders of potato kugel, brisket and schmaltz, evoking images of my bubby, not an athlete. So what is the appeal? Why can Stoudemire study in Israel and have his chef cook kosher and study Torah, and so many Jewish children and their families do not access the wonderful Jewish resources in our community? Some posit that the answer is in the axiom “familiarity breeds contempt,” and some say it is that the new parenting generation is not familiar enough with our traditions.

Whatever the experts have said until now, change is afoot in Baltimore.  It is not only that the Hebrew school product is good and getting more creative by the day, day schools are full and thriving, and adult education is readily accessible. It is also that in Baltimore, families with young children can enjoy Pumpkin Theatre and the Maryland Science Center with a decidedly Jewish twist. Stoudemire eating kosher-style with his chef does not make him part of a special community like Baltimore (reports of his Jewish heritage conflict and are not conclusive).

So what DOES make for great Jewish life? It is as simple as the “A, B, Cs.”

  • A is for “Authenticity” – really seeking out an aspect of Jewish life that speaks to you as a parent of a young child, embracing it and letting your child see you love it.
  • B is for “Believing” – believing that you make a difference in this community. Sometimes in a place as rich and vibrant as Baltimore, it is easy to assume that someone else is more capable or committed. Baltimore needs every Jew- and your level of Jewish self-awareness and self-confidence will help children feel connected, too.
  • C is usually for Cookie, and of course cookies always help, but in this case, C is for “Community” – check it out at the JCC  or in your own neighborhood or at a made-for-families synagogue service.  Unique to Baltimore is a site just for families to find great Jewish activities. Check out Shalom, Hon! on the Baltimore’s Child website so you can keep living and learning.One of my favorite ABCs is the upcoming holiday of Sukkot. My A – Putting up and decorating the Sukkah! Many years ago we started a family tradition of adding the childrens’ hand prints to a sheet that serves as one of the walls. It is really great to see the children grow every year. My B – Somehow sitting in our little hut on the back porch while the children eat their breakfast Cheerios makes me feel connected to the Jewish generations – all the way back to the desert. I feel like our family is an important link in the chain. My C – The children and families in the neighborhood “sukkah hop” and bless us with their presence and nosh on candy and cake. We love meeting the new people who might happen by and seeing the friends who come to visit. You are welcome at any time!And Stoudemire? Well… let’s hope that cholent helps him keep his game on!

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