Tori Avey, aka The Shiksa in the Kitchen, converted to Judaism on Feb. 25, 2010. Why, then, does she still consider herself a shiksa (a word with derogatory connotations that we generally try to avoid using)? Writing in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Avey, who runs a Jewish cooking blog and sits on our Women’s Advisory Board, explains that she does this “in good humored defiance of the lingering doubts surrounding intermarriage and conversion.” Her decision to embrace the term stems from a desire to force others in the Jewish community to confront intermarriage and conversion and help move us towards a culture of welcoming and inclusion.
Through her blog (which has featured a hamantaschen recipe from JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky), Avey constantly demonstrates that the Jewish community is already a mixed bag of cultures and traditions. There is really no such thing as “Jewish cuisine,” she found, but instead we are linked by a broad “spectrum of international foods that are united by ancient kosher laws.” The food is more of a “reflection of the Jewish people – their struggles, their triumphs, their traditions, and their unwavering faith in the face of extreme adversity.”
It’s appropriate that Avey’s article appears in the weeks leading up to Shavuot, a holiday in which we read about Ruth, the very first Jew-by-Choice. It’s also a holiday in which we celebrate the giving of the Torah, which was given not only to Jews but also to the “strangers” who were in our camp. Our survival has depended on the tenacity with which we welcome in all those who approach, either through intermarriage or conversion. Avey’s blog – particularly the title – encourages us to recognize that there are “strangers” among us who indeed embrace Judaism and Jewish culture. Instead of treating them like “strangers,” let’s treat them as welcome additions to the Jewish community.