Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bringing A Taste of Home To My New Home

About two weeks before I left for France, I was checking the syllabi for our Bates classes and checking the dates for our weekend excursions. I saw that not only was I going to be in Brittany for Rosh Hashanah, but I would also be in Paris for Yom Kippur. I couldn’t be more upset. Fasting in Paris?! I couldn’t even imagine. I emailed Professor Read immediately, and he said we would do our best to come up with some alternate solution for me.

Celebrating the Jewish High Holidays is something very important to me. At home I go to Synagogue for High Holiday services with my family. I figured that when I came to Nantes, this would be something I could do as well. I was excited to have this cultural experience of attending Synagogue in a different country. However, the more I looked into attending Synagogues here, the more complicated it became. In the end, I realized it just was not going to work out. I was really upset that one of the things that would make me feel at home was just not going to happen.
I told Ebbe about how I had given up on going to Synagogue and was going to do my own little service by myself and read some things my Rabbi was sending me. We continued talking about other ways that could make the holidays feel special for me. She told me her father had this excellent Challah recipe that we could make for Rosh Hashanah. I was so excited about this idea!

That night I talked with my host mother about the Jewish Holidays. It took me a while to explain to her in half French and half English that I was Jewish, that next week was a Jewish Holiday called Rosh Hashanah and that I would be baking special bread for the holiday. I was so excited that I had just had half a conversation in French and that I would be able to still do something special for my holiday!

Wednesday, September 28th—Eve of Rosh Hashanah.

Ebbe, Max and I went to Professor Read’s apartment to cook Challah. Google became a much-needed resource, as we had to convert the cups to liters and Fahrenheit to Celsius. One of the first steps was to put the yeast into the water. The yeast in France is different than what we would buy back in the United States. We all watched as Max poured the yeast into the water and crossed our fingers that it was in fact yeast and that we could continue on our Challah baking adventure. Luckily, it was in fact yeast and we continued on with our baking! We all took turns pouring in ingredients, stirring the batter and kneading the dough. Then we waited as the dough had to rise….

When it was ready we split the dough into two large pieces and one small piece. Max and I each braided our own Challahs and then we made a small, baby Challah for Professor Read. It was the cutest Challah I had ever seen! Again we had to let the dough rise…

Then after a little bit of time, it was time to cook the Challahs. We almost forgot to brush egg on the outside of the braided Challah to make it shiny. Professor Read quickly brushed on the egg and we put the Challahs into the oven. Professor Read’s European apartment filled with the smell of Challah. Luckily we set our timer for less time than the recipe called for, because with the French convection oven the Challah baked faster. We took the Challahs out at the perfect time and immediately started taking pictures of our masterpiece. We even made sure that we held the Challah in the perfect sunlight that was flooding into the apartment. It looked best still on the tray, sitting on the wooden floorboards. It was all very humorous watching us as we gathered around taking pictures of the Challah on the floor. 


When I got back to my host families house, I was greeted with smiles and curiosity about the food I had with me. I walked into the living room and saw they had decorated the table beautifully for me for the special day. The kids had each made me a card and my host parents had bought me a purse. Usually I don’t exchange gifts with my family for Rosh Hashanah, but it was very sweet of them to think of me. They explained to me they didn’t know what I usually did back home, but that they wanted to make it special for me. They even let me sit at the head of the table, usually my host father’s, Vincent, seat.

We ate very well for dinner that night, similar to what I would do at home. We first all tried the Challah. As I cut the bread I explained that I would say a prayer over the special bread. My family listened as I said the prayer for Challah in Hebrew. Then we each had a slice of bread to try and the kids kept saying “C'est treeees bon”. I was so happy the Challah had turned out yummy. Then we had chicken and salad that Christelle, my host mother, had cooked. After that we had the Kugel, a traditional Jewish noodle dish, which Ebbe, Max and I made while the Challah was in the oven. I was pleasantly surprised that even without the normal ingredients it tasted like what I would eat back home. Everyone liked it, except for my host sister Lisa who doesn’t like cinnamon. After that we each had an apple with honey. The kids were in absolute heaven. Christelle explained to me that now the kids will always want honey with their apples.

Although my host family did not quite understand what Rosh Hashanah was, they were happy for me nonetheless. This Rosh Hashanah was quite different from any other one I have celebrated. I was not at home and not with my family at Synagogue. Instead I was in France, with a lovely family who has taken me in as one of their own family members, eating Challah and Kugel that I cooked myself. Even though this holiday wasn’t what I expected, it was one I will never forget. I shared an adventure of cooking in a French kitchen with friends. I ate a delicious meal with a family who, even though I have known them for less than a month, cares about me as if they have known me my whole life.

This weekend I will be fasting for Yom Kippur and yes I will be in Paris. After celebrating Rosh Hashanah successfully, although certainly in a different way than I normally would, I am ready to celebrate Yom Kippur. I am going to fast. I am going to read what my Rabbi has sent me. All the while, I will enjoy the lovely city of Paris, to the extent that I can while fasting. I will adjust.

Celebrating my holidays in France is an experience that has taught me a lot. I have learned to adjust and make the best out of a situation. I have experienced something different and new and enjoyed it all the while. I have learned how to bring a little bit of home to my new home. What better way to do this than through food and sharing it with people who care about you?

-- Mikayla Foster

1 comment:

  1. I did the Bates FSA in Nantes 10 years ago (gasp!!) with Kirk Read! So happy that you're all there and enjoying the incredible city of Nantes and Breton countryside. Enjoy every moment- I'm looking forward to following your blog!
    Julia Phelan Sylla '01