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Studying the Jewish culture


Discovering my Jewish roots
Claudia Roden Writer
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Writing the book was, on the one hand, very personal. Very emotional. Because it was my identity. And who we were. That I had a bit rejected... it means my being so Europeanised, by being French, by being English. But it was my parents' world, my grandparents' world. My great grandfather had been the Chief Rabbi of Aleppo. I always say I have got his photograph in the kitchen. It was during the Ottoman times. He was given all the medals by the Sultan. And so, it was my way of discovering who my Jews were.

But at the same time, because in Egypt women did not study religion... They did not ever study religion. My brothers had a Rabbi coming to teach them. And they had a bar mitzvah. No girl ever had a bat mitzvah in Egypt. But also, the women didn't sit with the men in the synagogue. They always sat upstairs chatting. Because they didn't understand anything. They didn't know anything. Or else, where I lived in Cairo, there was a synagogue in somebody's garden, they had made their garage into a very sumptuous synagogue. And the women sat outside and there was a window into the garage. And they sat outside on golden chairs, all dressed up with their most fashionable clothes. And gossiping and gossiping and gossiping. And every so often, a man came to the window and said, 'Taisez vous les dames' – 'Shut up the ladies'. But so I didn't know anything. And so, I went to Jewish courses, and I asked the Sephardi Rabbi, he ran courses in the evenings. And I went and took notes and so, I studied about Jews for the Jewish Book.

Claudia Roden (b. 1936) is an Egyptian-born British cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist of Sephardi/Mizrahi descent. She is best known as the author of Middle Eastern cookbooks including A Book of Middle Eastern Food, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and The Book of Jewish Food.

Listeners: Nelly Wolman

Claudia Roden talking to her granddaughter Nelly Wolman about her life in food.

Tags: Jews, religion, synagogue, Jewish culture

Duration: 2 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023