Miri­am’s Kitchen

Eliz­a­beth Ehrlich

December 19, 2013

Like many Jew­ish Amer­i­cans, Eliz­a­beth Ehrlich was ambiva­lent about her back­ground. She iden­ti­fied with Jew­ish cul­tur­al atti­tudes, but not with the insti­tu­tions; she had fond mem­o­ries of her Jew­ish grand­moth­ers, but she found their reli­gious prac­tices irrel­e­vant to her life. It wasn?t until she entered the kitchen – and world – of her moth­er-in-law, Miri­am, a Holo­caust sur­vivor, that Ehrlich began to under­stand the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing the tra­di­tions of the past. As Ehrlich looks on, Miri­am method­i­cal­ly and lov­ing­ly pre­pares count­less kosher meals while relat­ing the often painful sto­ries of her life in Poland and her immi­gra­tion to Amer­i­ca. These sto­ries trig­ger a kind of reli­gious awak­en­ing in Ehrlich, who – as she moves ten­ta­tive­ly toward reclaim­ing the her­itage she reject­ed as a young woman – gains a new appre­ci­a­tion of life?s pos­si­bil­i­ties, choic­es, and limitations. 

Which aspects of Eliz­a­beth’s sto­ry do you iden­ti­fy with? Which parts are you less con­nect­ed to? Do you think some­one with a very dif­fer­ent personal/​family his­to­ry could read this book in the same way? The book is struc­tured with per­son­al jour­nal entries of Eliz­a­beth’s own spir­i­tu­al jour­ney at the begin­ning of each chap­ter. Did you feel that these were cohe­sive with the rest of the nar­ra­tive? How did they affect your read­ing of each chapter?

Discussion Questions

JBC Book Clubs Dis­cus­sion Questions 

  • Did you learn any­thing from read­ing this book? What will you take away from this story?
  • The recent Pew Sur­vey of Jew­ish Amer­i­cans gen­er­at­ed a lot of con­ver­sa­tion about being Jew­ish by reli­gion” and being cul­tur­al­ly Jew­ish, and how younger gen­er­a­tions choose to iden­ti­fy with Judaism. What do you think this book has to say about that? Do you agree or disagree? 
  • Does Eliz­a­beth fall more into the cat­e­go­ry of Jew­ish by reli­gion or by culture?
  • Through­out the book, Eliz­a­beth writes about find­ing ways to feel Jew­ish”. What are char­ac­ter­is­tics that feel” Jew­ish to you? 
  • Eliz­a­beth is con­cerned about pass­ing along Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. She writes With­out any par­tic­u­lar sense of oblig­a­tion, I felt Jew­ish, I felt a valu­able if occa­sion­al dif­fer­ent­ness, and I want­ed to pass that on. I want­ed my chil­dren to eat stuffed cab­bage, then yearn for strudel, not ice cream or flan. It was the least way I could hon­or the grand­moth­ers.” (p. 127). What do you think about her statement?
  • Eliz­a­beth is a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can Jew who grew up with mem­o­ries of her immi­grant grand­par­ents. If a Mil­len­ni­al had writ­ten this mem­oir, what would be different? 
  • Do you have par­tic­u­lar foods that are intrin­si­cal­ly linked to fam­i­ly tra­di­tions or memories?

JBC Book Clubs ques­tions © Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, Inc., 2014