Deep Jewish community engagement has been uppermost in mind lately for Alana Newhouse, Tablet magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief. Engagement, up close and face to face, she believes, is key to confronting the threat of antisemitism.
Newhouse will share her engaging insights at Connections, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s annual philanthropic gathering for Jewish women. The event will take place on Sunday, January 26, 2020, at The Westin Seattle.
“As women, we are enlivening our voices, taking a stand to fight antisemitism and hatred, and encourage tolerance. Alana has been in the forefront of Jewish changemakers,” says Barrie Galanti, Connections 2020 co-chair. Adds co-chair Shelley Bensussen: “She has a well-rounded resume of writing about Jewish foods and holidays as well as thought-provoking subjects such as antisemitism and feminism.”
Building community is a touchstone of Newhouse’s calls for Jewish solidarity in the face of rising antisemitism. Shortly before Rosh Hashanah, she wrote in Tablet, “It is our belief that Jewish solidarity is a way to save lives.” Because, as she notes in her piece, “anti-Semitic violence can find us anywhere.”
How to stand against antisemitism will differ among communities because “the way it feels in Seattle will be different from the way it feels in California or New York or Houston,” she says. The best way to unpack the threat, understand its origins, and stand up to it is to engage in “deep communal conversations.”
“It’s at the local level where you’ll effect change, where you’ll have the most short-term and long-term success,” she says.
It’s all about finding connections — in-person community building at the local level, founded on “real-life, high-touch engagement,” she says, where conversations can explore questions more deeply than ephemeral back-and-forth exchanges online.
Connecting was an impetus for producing The 100 Most Jewish Foods, a spirited compendium edited by Newhouse of recipes and reflections on food, a universal starting point for conversations about Jewish identity, culture, and community.
“It’s weirdly relevant to our conversation about community, and here’s why,” she explains. “We realized that our readers want a sense of the boundaries of our Jewish inheritance.” Food, as she said in an April 5, 2019, interview with the Brooklyn news site Bklyner, is a safe space “to engage with no constraints.”
The book is a collection of punchy essays from chefs, food writers, and cultural figures — think Joan Nathan, Yotam Ottolenghi, and even Dr. Ruth — commenting on dishes, many accompanied by recipes, that stand out for the indelible traces they have left on Jewish culture.
The book is a tangy blend of sweet reminiscences and playful soapboxing. Take matzo brei, for example. “Do you like it wetter, drier, sweeter, saltier?” Newhouse asks. Highly debatable, as the book’s subtitle makes clear. Your taste in matzo brei likely will “reflect the way you experienced it in your family,” she observes.
Family stories and shared experiences are raw ingredients of memory and of the manifold expressions of Jewish identity and community. There’s power in community. Come to Connections on January 26, connect with community, and hear some rich food for thought from Alana Newhouse.