Jewish genealogists know that Jewish holidays are always a good time to share favorite memories, especially to look at family photos in shoe boxes and old albums. Tasting favorite recipes can bring holidays past into the present as we share the inherited tastes and traditional aromas with younger family members.
One of our family treasures is The Settlement Cook Book that my mother-in-law received as a wedding gift in 1945. There is an inscription from two cousins adding their best wishes on the inside.
Tucked into the pages are her favorite recipes for coffee cake, Pesach cake, and gefilte fish. The paper is yellowed, the writing faded and the splatters make some of the lovely handwriting hard to read.
I also have her wooden chopping bowl and blade. Whenever I use it I remember seeing her at the kitchen table preparing for Shabbat, chopping fish, and chopping apples and walnuts for charoset for Pesach.
My daughters never knew their father’s parents but have learned a lot about them because The Settlement Cook Book and the chopping bowl always trigger lots of stories. They compare their penmanship to the script on the handwritten recipes. The cookbook’s subtitle, “The way to a man’s heart” adds a historical and social perspective for discussion about family roles and relationships, now and then.
I’ve told them how my sister and I frequently made the blintzes from the recipe on page 81 from our mother’s copy of the same book (whereabouts unknown). They know it was that recipe that made me (and now them) a fan of cast iron pans.
And we created our own holiday tradition forsaking blenders and food processors to make favorite family foods the old fashioned way, by hand, with the old blade and bowl.
Family history research is more than finding vital statistics and cataloging old records and keepsakes. Family stories and traditions connect the generations and strengthen bonds in families and communities. Knowing their ancestors gives children a personal, historical and cultural legacy that can build a strong sense of identity and emotional resilience.
The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston is dedicated to helping people discover and research their Jewish family history. JGSGB welcomes beginners and has expert members with a broad range of skills in various research techniques who are happy to help others. For information on programs and event, special interest groups, expert help, and membership go to JGSGB.org.