PJ Library recently partnered with Sephardi Voices UK to hear stories from Doreen Dangoor, who grew up in Iraq, and Elie Chilton, who was born in Egypt. They discussed their childhoods, moving to the UK and traditions that continue to be meaningful for them and their families. Doreen and Elie also talked about specific ways to make sure the next generation feels connected to their heritage. Here we celebrate four of these ideas and suggest ways that grandparents, wherever they come from, can connect with their grandchildren over shared Jewish values and traditions.
Baklava baked by Lisa
Fan-taste-tic ways to connect. Doreen spoke warmly about her love of cooking – and especially of Iraqi recipes. Ironically, when she first moved to the UK and would entertain Iraqi visitors, her mother was amazed to hear that Doreen was cooking. Back in Baghdad, the cook took care of everything! Upon getting married and moving to London, though, she had to learn from scratch how to make those wonderful Iraqi dishes that her husband, family and friends enjoyed eating. The sweet flavours brought back memories of her childhood and community from those days in Iraq, and they still continue to nourish both body and soul.
Now her 17-year-old granddaughter, Lisa, who loves creative baking, has also embraced the traditions of Iraqi cuisine and finds joy in making dishes such as t'beet, kubba, bourag and baklava. You can follow her at cakeitwithlisa.com.
What dishes connect your family? Food plays an important role in Jewish culture. Choose a recipe and set to work. Cooking with a grandchild, in person or over Zoom, is a lovely way to bring memories to life – with delicious results at the end!
Back to your roots. Elie was born in Alexandria and moved to France as a teenager before settling in Scotland. He is very proud of his Sephardi heritage and in February 2020 took his children and grandchildren on a tour of his birth city to mark the rededication of the Alexandria Eliahu HaNavi Synagogue, where he had his Bar Mitzvah.
Elie with his family standing outside the Nebi Daniel Synagogue in Alexandria
While this was a very special and unusual pilgrimage for Elie and his family, the idea of taking children and grandchildren on a tour of places from childhood – either in real life or virtually – is a powerful one. Not only does it enable children to picture the street where you lived or the synagogue your family attended, buildings and places serve as great catalysts for interesting conversations, inviting you to discuss the sights, sounds and smells of the area.
Get writing. Doreen’s other granddaughter, Natasha, had a long, empty summer from university due to the pandemic and so put her time to great use. She resurrected Scribe, a journal of Babylonian Jewry, and produced a beautiful Jubilee edition, calling on family and friends to help her.
Come up with questions that grandchildren can ask relatives so that, together, they can explore what life was like for a different generation. Think about where their school was, a favourite or challenging lesson or teacher, their first job, what their home looked like or, even, what was considered a special snack at the time.
Doreen with granddaughters Lisa (left) and Natasha (right)
Objects with a heart. Elie spoke very movingly about a brit milah gown, a family heirloom worn by male babies at their circumcision in his wider family for several generations; the custodian is now his sister, who lives in London. This item connects the cousins and generations, even as they live in different cities and countries.
Is there any item in your family that has a shared history? Perhaps a kiddish cup, Pesach/Passover song, Shabbat melody or niggun? If not, why not start a new tradition or resurrect a communal one? A few years ago, PJ Library sent out ‘Blessing the Child’ packs to families outlining traditional ways to bless your child on a Friday night.
Sephardi Voices UK was founded with the mission to record and capture the experiences of the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Iran who settled in the UK. You can hear more stories like Doreen’s and Elie’s at www.sephardivoices.org.uk
January 20, 2021