Guests at Elisheva Kupferman’s Shabbat meals know to expect an explanation with their appetizer.
The New York native, who now lives in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem, loves to host Shabbat meals every week for friends and neighbors. “I like to have big groups of people — I like to really feel like Shabbos is a gathering,” said the 24-year-old. And lately her meals — which generally include 10 to 15 guests — have offered a unique twist.
Most cooks consult cookbooks and recipe sites when deciding on dishes for a meal. But each week Kupferman looks at the weekly parsha, the portion of the Torah that is read in the synagogue that week, and plans her menu around it.
“It started out small and cute. I would do something once in a while, a dish that was themed,” said Kupferman, who is finishing a graduate degree in nonprofit management at Hebrew University. But as things progressed, entire meals became themed, guests would be involved in the planning and sometimes the table was decorated to match. Last month Kupferman decided to share her ideas and recipes online, and launched a blog at ThemedThinking.wordpress.com.
“I’m sure there are people who would appreciate reading about it and would want to do it themselves also and contribute to the idea,” said Kupferman, who is eager for others to suggest themes and dishes.
For the double parsha of Nitzavim and VaYelech, which was read on Sept. 4, Kupferman drew one element from each portion. In Nitzavim, we read the phrase, “It is not in heaven … but it is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart.” [Deut. 30:12-14] Guests at the meal were served a sweet potato soufflé topped with marshmallows — mirroring fluffy clouds in a sky. One line in the other portion, VaYelech, discusses the gathering of the Jewish people every seven years at the temple. Kupferman roasted asparagus and gathered bunches together and tied them with a scallion.
The Parsha of Ki Tetze, read in August, contains the famous mitzvah of shiluach haken, sending away a mother bird before collecting her eggs. Kupferman served a spaghetti bird’s nest with meatballs.
Some weeks the theme went beyond the food, like on Parshat Re’eh. The portion discusses the shalosh regalim — three holidays: Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot. Kupferman made one dish corresponding to each of the holidays and then decorated her apartment like a sukkah, with paper chains hanging over the table and signs on the walls.
And with the cycle of Torah reading just restarted, Kupferman has plenty of meals to plan and create. “I definitely will do big things this year,” she said. “I have a momentum going, people expect it from me now.” This week, for Parshat Lech Lecha, Kupferman is contemplating making mango chicken. ‘Man, Go,” of course, being the interpretation of the portion’s name.
And though the inventive dishes are fun to create, the best part for Kupferman is the discussions it brings.
“I kind of felt so often conversations just go in a million and one directions,” she said. “It definitely does work as a springboard for talking about the parsha — which is really why I do it.”