The Magic Around The Table

by Zehorit Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence

My parents are magicians well versed in the wizardry of everyday life. Creating abundance and knowledge out of a past of poverty and ignorance, they bequeathed to us, their four children, a legacy of joy, hope and above all perseverance. As young, penniless immigrants from Yemen to the newly established Israel, they set out to gain education and secure a future for themselves and for the family they would create.

After several moves from town to town, following my father’s changing positions as a teacher, my parents acquired a home in Givat Olga, where I spent most of my childhood. There, my parents set roots and began to work their magic in earnest. Our small three-bedroom, one bathroom apartment, housed a family of six, so space was precious. Every available area was utilized multiple ways, but the kitchen table was truly enchanted. My first coloring lessons were at the table under my mother’s watchful eye. I learned the steps for intricate folk dances to catchy tunes, circling the table after my father. I labored over my homework while my mom put the finishing touches on dinner, and while my dad corrected papers by my side.

However, the real magic happened at meal times. On a teacher’s salary, my mother conjured delicious and plentiful food, which nourished our growing bodies and provided occasions to come together as a family. Coming home from school in winter, I would find steaming pots of aromatic stew or colorful soup and pita dough, awaiting our arrival to be baked. In summer the fridge would host a plethora of vegetable salads: marinated eggplant, roasted peppers, spicy tomato condiments, lemony tender carrots and more. Shabbat dinner boasted several courses including crispy, spiced roasted chicken and tender, juicy pot roast. 

“Don’t talk with your mouth full!” My mother would admonish. “Wait until your mother is at the table before you eat.” My father would add. Then my parents would urge my brothers to help with the dishes that I was already clearing (yes I was the “good girl”). Manners were taught in real time and a sense of connection was created and enhanced. The nature and character of who we are as a family was shaped and enriched during our shared meals.

The flow that seemed natural and easy to my parents appears elusive and almost unreachable in today’s hurried life of the average family. And yet, I still believe that it is well worth the effort. My own kids are spreading wings and leaving our nest to find their own paths. However, when they do come back, they request a family meal, where they know they will find connection, support, joy – and even a little magic.