Miriam's Kitchen: A Memoir, by Elizabeth Ehrlich (Viking, 370 pp.; $24.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Lauren F. Winner, Kellett Scholar at Clare College, Cambridge University.
On occasion, I have joked to my boyfriend Andrew that our grandchildren will do things—culinary things—that they will not understand. They will have long forgotten—if in fact they ever knew—why they make braided whole wheat loaves every Friday, and why they eat meringues around Easter. For although I have, in becoming Christian, put aside most of the symbols and accouterments of my Jewish childhood, the ones that will not go are related to the kitchen. I have folded up and tucked away my prayer shawl, donated my Mikraot Gedolot to a local synagogue, taken to driving on Saturdays, removed the mezuzah from my doorpost. But I still bake challah every Friday afternoon, and I still concoct the crisp, unleavened cookies every Passover. It does not make any sense. Often I am not even home on Friday night to eat this challah, and it gets turned into French toast for Sunday brunch after church. But baking that bread is almost as automatic as brushing my teeth.
I have given Andrew Miriam's Kitchen to read. In fact, whatever the book's weaknesses, I felt as if it were a godsend. Literally. I have been praying that Andrew will somehow come to understand something he does not: not just why I continue to bake challah, but why my father, a good cultural Jew, is so distraught that I have become an Anglican and that therefore his descendants will not be Jewish. Why he is so troubled that his daughter is dating the son of a priest. Why I quietly fumble with the clasp at my neck and slip my cross into the pocket of my jeans when I pull into my father's ...1