I think Rabbi Grossman sells the power of Jewish food short. True, there is much, much more to our tradition than our food, but food is an important aspect of Jewish civilization. It demonstrates how Judaism is more than just a religion: it comprises all aspects of every day life (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not sure there’s much in the way of distinctively “Christian food” or “Muslim food”). Our food is also one of the few aspects of our civilization that many American Jews relate to on an organic level when so many other parts of being Jewish can feel artificial, or have to be learned.
What is Jewish food? It’s a record of our civilization as it evolved down the ages and spread throughout the world. For Jews of Eastern European descent, the foods may be matzoh balls, or chopped liver, latkes, or gefilte fish. Jews from other parts of the world have carried their own distinctive and delicious recipes with them as well, such as Moroccan hamin or Indian tandoori chicken livers; in Israel, it’s hummus and falafel. Wherever Jews have lived, they took elements of local foods (as with so many other aspects of local practices and customs) and wedded them to the demands of Jewish dietary laws–separating milk and meat for example or avoiding leavened foods on Passover. The result is a blending of cuisines, one that is simultaneously worldly and authentically Jewish. (In America, where there’s no such thing as a distinctively “American”cuisine, the best we seem to have done is the pizza bagel, but that’s another story.)
As an aspect of our civilization, Jewish food helps form and reinforce Jewish identity through shared memories and shared meals. It helps hold us together, and gives us something to nosh as it does so. Let’s not sell it short.