Jackie: Where did your interest in Jewish community start?
Jackie N: I’ve always been lucky to live in places with a strong Jewish community. I attended Jewish day school, went to a Cuban-Jewish Sephardic synagogue (yes they do exist!), and grew up in a very traditional home.
When I went to college at the University of Florida (go Gators!) it really propelled my interest in getting involved with the Jewish community. Up until that point, I had lived in Miami which made me take Jewish practices and communal life for granted. For the first time in my life, I was living on my own without my family nearby. It felt very unnerving to not have Shabbat dinner every Friday and although I loved my new friends at school I missed Jewish life. I started getting involved by going to UF’s Hillel and Chabad and by the time I graduated I sat on Chabad’s board and was very active in Jewish life at UF.
When I moved to DC in 2008 I didn’t really know too many people and had no family in the area, so the Jewish community was an easy and a great way to make friends. I realized that many of my friends were also alone up here without our families nearby. So I decided to step up and take the lead and host the major holidays and Shabbat for my friends. It also felt more intimate, fun, familiar and less stressful than going to a large holiday event with hundreds of people. From there, my dinners grew tremendously and I became known for hosting Shabbat dinners.
A friend approached me in 2013 about co-hosting a Sephardic Shabbat service/dinner. I agreed to do it and it was a massive success! From there I began hosting monthly Shabbat dinners through my organization Sephardic Jews in DC.
Jackie: Can you tell me about your love of food?
Jackie N: I’ve always loved to cook. I’ve been cooking ever since I was a small child and I used to help my mom out in the kitchen all the time. She’s an even better cook than I am, but hopefully one day I’ll be as good as her! I especially love learning about the history and evolution of food. I’m fascinated by what ancient Sephardic Jewish communities ate, how they lived, and how their lives differed from the rest of the population and why. I’m constantly tinkering in the kitchen, researching different kinds of recipes and cuisine, and making it for my friends. I even have a food blog which contains many of my recipes.
Jackie: What is your favorite Sephardic meal to cook?
Jackie N: Oh way too many! I love cooking Turkish Sephardic food, especially borekas, keftes de prasas (leek latkes), abondigas de prasa (leek meatballs), and sofrito. I also love cooking Persian food and my favorite dish to make is fesenjoon (a walnut/pomegranate stew). I also love Moroccan food and love to make Chraime (Moroccan fish), hamim
(cholent) and Moroccan carrot salad.
Jackie: How did you get the idea to start Sephardic Jews in DC?
Jackie N:I was raised in a traditional Sephardic home and grew up going to a Sephardic synagogue. I really love the customs, heritage, history, and cuisine of the Sephardic world, but almost all of the synagogues and Jewish events in Washington DC are Ashkenazi, with the exception of a few synagogues in suburban Maryland.
I started the organization because the preservation of Sephardic culture, traditions, heritage and cuisine is very important to me. I want to ensure that Sephardic culture doesn’t die out, but rather will continue to evolve and be celebrated for its many contributions to Jewish life.
I spent many years frustrated that most Jewish organizations in DC didn’t address the Sephardic world, so I decided to take the lead and create a community-based organization to fill this void. My goals with this organization are not just to feed people delicious food (certainly an added benefit), but rather to create a robust Sephardic community in DC and educate people on Sephardic/Mizrahi culture, cuisine, history, liturgy, and traditions.
I believe that sharing a meal helps bring a community together and keeps traditions alive. Plus, learning about something is always easier when you have delicious food close by.
I, of course, have to acknowledge that “it takes a village” and use this opportunity to thank the people and organizations that have assisted me throughout the years. My fellow Sephardic leaders Ari, Aaron, and Jen. Also organizations like Chabad (Rabbi Levi and Menachem Shemtov), 6th and I (Rabbi Scott Perlo), Mesorah DC (Rabbi Teitelbaum), and Moishe House Arlington/DC for their partnerships.
Jackie: What are ways for people to get involved with your organization?
Jackie N: I’m always looking for people who are interested in volunteering their time to help nurture and grow a Sephardic community, whether it be helping to cook for events, leading or participating in services, generating ideas for events, or just attending and helping out at events. Thus far we have been a community lay-led organization with no major sponsorship. I’m hoping that in the future I’ll be able to work with larger Jewish organizations and be able to create an organic Sephardic Jewish community in DC. If you’re interested in learning more about coming to one of our monthly Shabbat dinners please visit our page on Facebook Sephardic Jews in DC.
Finish the sentence: When the [Sephardic] Jews Gather…there will be delicious food, good conversation, and fun times.