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A Night of Kosher Dining: Comfort for the Soul

In mid-May we had the good fortune to enjoy an amazing culinary, cultural, and yes, religious experience helmed by Michael Twitty, the James Beard Award-winning writer and chef.
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June 12, 2024
Michael Twitty (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times) Background photo from Facebook.

In mid-May we had the good fortune to enjoy an amazing culinary, cultural, and yes, religious experience helmed by Michael Twitty, the James Beard Award-winning writer and chef. Twitty created a pop-up at Post and Beam, one of Los Angeles’ most prominent Black restaurants in the heart of Baldwin Hills. Twitty, who is African American, Jewish and gay, and his team kashered the kitchen and prepared a fully kosher meal for two sold-out seatings, with a different menu for each. We chose the second seating, styled as his “Koshersoul” menu, named for his most recent book.

Twitty has one of those larger-than-life personalities; he fills the room, welcoming all the patrons as if to his own home, and throughout the evening, he moved through the restaurant, to all the tables to make sure the food got to everyone and that they were satisfied. This was a unique event, as the diners comprised Jews (white and black), non-Jewish blacks (including Los Angeles County Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell), gay and straight, religious and secular. And it was a celebration of a coming together of people from different cultures to share some extraordinary food and fascinating conversation, at a time of polarization, when too much of our focus is on our differences, contrasts and disagreements. It was a time of joy — good food does that — at a time of struggle and turmoil in a world that seems broken.

It was a celebration of a coming together of people from different cultures to share some extraordinary food and fascinating conversation, at a time of polarization, when too much of our focus is on our differences, contrasts and disagreements.

Twitty believes that food brings out what we have in common.  His journey to Judaism started at an early age, when he declared himself, at seven years old, to be Jewish, attributable in part, at least, to his mother’s (a Christian) delicious and beautifully braided challah.  He made his official conversion in his 20s. He sees common experiences in Jewish and Black history, of slavery and persecution.

The multi-course meal, which began with his recitation of Hamotzi, featured collard green-wrapped lox, barbecued brisket, chicken skewers, barbecued beans with lamb bacon, Texas slaw with black-eyed peas, potato salad and more. Each dish was more surprising than the previous and more delicious. The only controversy was which tasted best and why.

Twitty’s first book, “The Cooking Gene” (2017), traces his African American roots, along with a culinary and cultural journey through the American South. He called his exploration “the Southern Discomfort Tour.” In the book he intertwines genealogical research with stories of food, recipes and cultural traditions passed down through generations.  It reflects on the parallels and differences between African American and Jewish culinary traditions, emphasizing food as a means of preserving heritage and culture.  

During the meal, he told the diners of his struggle to get his memoir published, and the countless obstacles he had to overcome.  Ultimately, his tenacity and perseverance paid off; the book won two James Beard Awards, for writing and book of the year.  When he shared that story, he also told us he recited the “she-he-che-anu,” prayer when he received the awards.  More recently, he has published “Koshersoul” (2022), about Jewish and African American traditions and how they inform one another.  He finds Jews and Blacks share a Venn diagram of turmoil and pain, migration and diaspora life. Food, including the recipes, and the traditions of family gatherings over well-prepared meals, are a bridge to common experiences and understanding.

We sat next to one of Michael’s former students at American Jewish University.  He described how AJU was the right place for him, a Black Jewish man, to pursue his studies and his continuing commitment to Judaism; part of his professional work is aimed at ensuring Jews of color are made to feel at home within Jewish institutions and that Jewish institutions are accepting of Jews of color. This was a special night for Jews of color who felt themselves quite at home in both communities and who could serve as a bridge between Jews and Blacks

On the way into the restaurant, we met an African American family curious about Jews and Judaism; their daughter who accompanied them sings in her choir at the First AME Church, which has performed with the choir at Temple Isaiah. A love of good food brought us together — black and white, Jewish and non-Jewish Angelenos; good food sparked good conversation and a feeling of community. For the first time in too long a time, politics and loss were not at the center of our discussions and when the divisive topics were raised, we found an uncommon unity and a mutuality of concern.


Melissa Berenbaum is an attorney living in Los Angeles. Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and a professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University.

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