The spiritual leader of Cincinnati’s Temple Sholom discusses food, faith, and fellowship.
interview by Bryn Mooth // photograph by Michael Wilson
Tell us about a favorite food memory you treasure from childhood.
My parents told me, “You can do whatever you want on Friday night, but first you have to come to Shabbat dinner and you can bring whoever you want.” It could be one friend or 10. It was always a long multi-course dinner that started with homemade bread and cheese, then a big salad, and the main course might be a big pot of soup. My parents created this multigenerational space that filled the whole house; it was never just a table. That has informed my faith life and the way I cook and eat with my family.
Food plays such a role in religious observances; how is it especially intertwined in the Jewish faith?
An old Jewish parable that explains our concept of death is a good example: God offered a righteous man a glimpse into the afterlife. First, he traveled to Hell, where he witnessed a banquet table resplendent with foods of all kinds. Around the table sat emaciated humans, each with their elbows braced so that they could reach the food but could not bend their arms toward their mouths. They spent eternity in hunger, seeing all the food before their eyes, unable to partake. Horrified, the man cried, “Get me out of here! Take me to Heaven!” In Heaven, he saw a banquet table resplendent with foods of all kinds. Around the table sat humans, each with their elbows braced so that they could reach the food but could not bend their arms back toward their mouths. However, they were healthy and full of life, their arms long enough to take the food and feed it to their neighbors. That is the kind of table we should set. Our job is to build heaven on earth, which is how we nourish each other.
What is it about food that brings us to the spiritual table?
Food reminds you where home is. For Jews, home has always been portable, but food gives us a taste of home. For every Jewish holiday there’s a recipe, like hamentashen on Purim. Even if you don’t ever set foot in a synagogue and you don’t pray, you might still make that cookie. Sometimes food is that last remaining thing connecting you back to your faith.
What three people would you love to share a meal with?
Ruth Bader Ginsberg; my daughter is obsessed with her because she’s a woman and a Jew and she’s made extraordinary contributions to our world. The Apostle Paul, because I’d love to talk with him about what he did with Jesus’ writings. And the three women who created Black Lives Matter.
Born: 1979 in Houston, TX
Status: Married to husband Ryan Mulroney
Career: Received a master’s degree in Hebrew Letters in 2008, and was ordained as a rabbi in 2010 at HUC-JIR, Los Angeles. Prior to joining Temple Sholom as spiritual leader in 2010, served as chaplain at the Los Angeles County Men’s jail and the Los Angeles Home for the Aging. Active locally in social causes; past president of The Amos Project, founder of JustLOVE.
Bryn’s long career in publishing took a left turn sometime around 2010, when she discovered the joy of food writing. Since then, she’s found professional nirvana as the editor of Edible Ohio Valley, author of The Findlay Market Cookbook, and occasional instructor at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s. Find her seasonal recipes at writes4food.com.