By Daphne Steinberg
Can one’s life change in the course of three days? I think so.
I wasn’t really sure what I’d signed up for when I registered for the 2018 Hazon Food Conference. But I’m confident that I didn’t expect to have the transformation/awakening I ended up having.
In that short period spent at Isabella Freedman, I encountered a greater array of Jews than I ever have before, even having lived in Israel. White, black, and Hispanic Jews. Straight, gay, transgender, and non-binary Jews. Orthodox, conservative, reform, and reconstructionist; young, middle-aged, and elderly Jews. And any number of combinations thereof.
It was eye-opening. Not that I didn’t think they *could* exist, I just wasn’t accustomed to thinking outside my box. The Jewish community is bigger and more diverse than I ever imagined. What touched me so deeply was the unique commitment each person there had to being Jewish and the respect they had for and support they gave to everyone else’s Jewish practice.
That was summed up for me in an unforgettable way midway through the conference.
On Friday morning, I went to the goat barn for a milking demo and “capriccino.” There I watched the young staff attend to the herd with competence and care, even while answering all my questions – and I had *a lot* of them!
Afterward, I walked to the main building with another first-time Conference attendee. As I sipped a cup of goat milk so fresh it was still warm and watched the mist rise off Lake Miriam, a wave of tranquility washed over me. For an instant, it felt like heaven right on earth. It couldn’t get any safer and more peaceful than this.
As if sensing that, my walking partner turned to me and said, “Daphne, I want to tell you something. I’m actually not Jewish. I’m converting soon.”
It literally stopped me in my tracks. Here was a person who hardly knew me laying bare their soul. It made me, someone not so Jewishly connected, feel more confident about being my authentic self.
Accordingly, that extraordinary moment led to another. At Friday night’s tisch, I mentioned the exchange and asked Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein what song one might sing to welcome someone “to the tribe.” A group member offered an idea and we sang enthusiastically. With the passage of time, I don’t recall the song, but I can’t forget the look on Rabbi Isaiah’s face. He broke into a huge boyish grin indicative of a heartfelt happiness borne out by his comment about how thrilling it was to hear the story.
I know I look at Judaism and food differently than I once did. I’m more engaged in my temple, Adat Reyim in Springfield, VA, and I’m a more thoughtful cook and eater. And I’m finding ways to bring the two together such as a contribution of dried figs from my tree to a Tu B’Shvat Seder.
Participating in the Hazon Food Conference has made me a more reverent person. I am grateful every day for the opportunity I had to be there. Reflecting on all the exceptional moments I was part of at Isabella Freedman continues even now to nourish my body and soul.
A photo of me (center) enjoying Jeffrey Yoskowitz’s cooking session.