Jewish Lox & Korean Kimchi

Before Aaron and I moved to New York City, Aaron raved about two things: New York pizza and Zabar’s. We are still searching for the best New York pizza, but to Zabar’s, we definitely pay enough visits and it never disappoints. I love walking through the olives and cheese section, then looking over people’s shoulders to look at all the pre-made food, then heading over to the lox section. Aaron usually gets in line, and I wait for the guys to announce the samples of the day- sometimes it’s fois gras, and that is my lucky day!

On Saturday July 16th, 2016, I was on a lox & bagels duty while Aaron was away. It was my sister-in-law to be’s bachelorette party and I was hosting a Jewfood Brunch. If you have not been to Zabar’s, the lox slicers pull out a big chunk of lox and slice it one by one. The thiner the slice is, the better, and some claim to slice their lox so thin that you can read through them. After I ordered a half pound of lox and stood in the line to get some rugglach and bagels, it dawned on me that this was the first time I was at Zabar’s ordering lox on my own. And I immediately wondered, does this bring me closer to my Jewish identity that I don’t yet have? I could not deny that feeling of a little kid being proud of herself for being able to bike alone for the first time? Pretty maybe?

 

Lox and bagels are often referred to as the ultimate Jewish food. However, many have referred to lox and bagel as the symbol of American, cultural Jews, lamenting that “Lox, Bagels, and Seinfeld” do not constitute faith, and that lox and bagels are not a solid enough foundation to give the children a serious Jewish education. Interestingly enough, approximately half of Jews residing in Israel identify themselves as “traditional Jews” who value traditional Jewish life but are prepared to modify halakhically required Jewish practices. An article on Times of Israel has stated that lox and falafels are “an edible Jewish identity” for American and Israeli Jews respectively.

Korean identity has a strong relationship with food as well. Kimchi is certainly a big part of Korean diet and the process of making and sharing Kimchi was recently designated as one of the intangible heritage by UNESCO. Growing up eating rice and bulgogi (soysauce marinated beef) is definitely par for the course, for both Koreans in Korea, and Korean households in the US. When Aaron came to visit my family in Korea, and when Aaron went out with my Korean friends here in the US to Korean restaurants, his familiarity and appreciation for some spicy Korean food definitely scored him some points as “one of us.” And so did his ability to say thank you in Korean when he was served the food, and I am sure the same goes for my ability to say kiddush over bread and wine.

My fiance being a largely atheist, cultural Jew, I have my dilemma of defining what it means to “join” the community and “feel” Jewish and Korean. For now, lox and kimchi is good, and a few phrases in “heritage language ” at appropriate context create a nice intro to our present and future. In words of Samantha Yi, a Korean Jew born between a Korean father and a Jewish mother in Brooklyn, NY, “being “mixed” drives [one] to readily seek out and accept differing perspectives and experiences.” And among them, are lox and kimchi in my fridge!

 

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