Food Friday–Silk Road Frame of Mind Edition

Or perhaps I should re-phrase that as “ It’s a Small World After All”. Often the commissions that I’m working on and the food that I’m cooking are manifestations of similar ideas.


We tend to think of ourselves as Jews as either being Ashenazi or Sephardi. That is either our roots are in Central and Eastern Europe or we trace ourselves to the Middle East, North Africa or Central Asia after the the times of the destruction of the Temple.

In the last few years I have been realizing more and more that those categories are far more permeable and flexible than I had been brought up to believe.

While it is one thing to understand that the Ottoman Empire reached the gates of Vienna, it is another to finally get that our grandparents who lived in what on paper may have been part of the Russian empire , also were shaped by that easy access to Turkey, and Greece and Bulgaria and parts further East.


Earlier this year I read that even before the rise of Chassidism in the 1700’s, most Jews in the Ukraine davened/ prayed in Nusach Sphard  the Sephardic mode. So while my relatives my have spoken Yiddish, they were deeply influenced by Judaism as practiced in Aleppo,  Teheran, Salonika, and Alexandria.

A visual reminder of the connection between the Russian Empire This cup is Eastern.

This cup was made in Moscow.  My father inherited one from  his grandfather who was from Western Poland, from near Germany.

My Ebay searches for another cup keeps  showing up with Persian cups that are near twin’s to my father’s.


This week I have been working on a few projects. I have been working on Y’s tallit. Here is one of the pomegranates on her atara


That scroll motif that surrounds the pomegranates is a motif used in Russian, and Persian and Indian decorative arts. 


I have also begun work on a bat-mitzvah invitation. The bat mitzvah girl’s mother is Syrian. The family gave me a couple of books of Persian decorative motifs to look at as I work out some of the elements of the invitations.   The motifs in the books are as familiar as my name. I found a couple that with a bit of tweaking would be perfect.

And this brings me to tonight’s dinner. I had every intention of mixing up a Middle Eastern spice rub with sumac and smoked paprika and regular paprika, but my hands got busy among the spices and into the mix went tumeric, and cinnamon and a bit of cayenne, allspice, and ginger and black pepper. Just a small shift sent my chicken a bit further east  down the Silk Road. SAM_2290

I snitched a piece and it’s yummy.

Visually and in my taste buds my most comfortable spot is somewhere along the Silk Road. As this just completed challah cover attests.SAM_2284SAM_2282


My visual DNA comes from the land of layered patterns. They build and blend into a nice hum. You might expect a challah cover that involves gold glitter and big sequins and gold military braid to be flashy. But as you can see here, it isn’t flashy at all.


Shabbat Shalom


  1. This is interesting. My Dad was born in Polonoyye and always wondered why his family's style of laying tfilin was Sephard.

  2. Your father's family may have been Chassidish, many Sephardic and sort of Sephardic customs were adopted by Chassidim to strengthen their ties to the earlier ways of the Lurianic mystics, or they might have always followed Sephardic custom. My father taught me haftara trop. The trop he taught me was different than the one used in my Orthodox day school and different than what most people I knew used. About ten years ago I was playing with a computer program that taught trop. I discovered that the trop my father taught me was Hungarian. My father's family is Polish. I asked my father how he ended up using Hungarian trop. He said that his friend Jerry Green had taught it to him. After my father died Jerry sent a long and beautiful condolence letter to my mother. In the letter he mentioned that my mother's brother taught Jerry trop. My father had inadvertently taught me family trop.


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