Heirlooms, recipes whet appetites at heritage feast

Noah Abelson, 10, nicknamed "Nettie" after his Russian-born great-grandmother, walked over to a white tablecloth she embroidered in blue and gold. Two gold lions, on either side, rest their paws on blue Stars of David.

"This is the last thing she embroidered before she died," said Noah, who brought the family heirloom to the North Peninsula Jewish Day School for its recent Feast of Jewish Heritage.

His mother, Geilah, added: "This activity has been so successful because it got our whole family talking about our ancestry. We hadn't done this for a long time, and it rekindled our memories. The children love to hear about their heritage. This keeps it all alive."

Teachers Debbie Heiman and Karen Wagshul, who coordinated the event, spent two weeks gathering stories, recipes, photos and memorabilia.

Students, teachers, parents and grandparents filled the large assembly room, viewing artifacts displayed on long tables. They sang along with music teacher Achi Ben Shalom, who played the guitar during the pre-Shabbat event.

The audience listened attentively as students stood up to proudly share their old photos and mementos of their ancestors, retelling the stories that their parents and grandparents had related to them about the people in the pictures.

Kinneret Rogers showed a large picture of a man and a donkey in pre-state Israel. It was Great-grandfather Moshe.

"The donkey was left with my great-grandfather outside the Old City of Jerusalem, during the 1940s, " the first-grader said. "When the donkey followed Moshe, he looked in the saddle bags to find dynamite, which he turned over to British authorities. The British awarded him the donkey, and he rode it through Jerusalem when Israel achieved nationhood."

A world map on a large bulletin board contained squares marked with each student's name, pinned on the countries of their families' place of origin. Adorning the tables were colorful flags from these countries made by the students.

"This map shows our heritage birthplaces," said fifth-grader Naomi Goodman. "Many of my friends come from the same area. We may even be related but don't realize it yet."

Another long table display showed old religious artifacts and family possessions, including a set of Shabbat candlesticks, a tallit cover, a kiddush cup, a great-great grandmother's wedding handkerchief, an 1850s mortar and pestle and an l870s spice box that still had a pungent smell.

Kindergartner Ariel Light displayed her family shofar, which she proudly showed to her mother, Michelle Newman, and grandfather, Don Newman. The shofar has been in the family for generations.

Said Michelle Newman: "This is incredible, sharing our heritage with students. Every Shabbat the children blow the shofar, which has my grandfather's name written in Hebrew."

Fifth-grader Briana Abrams brought her great, great-grandmother's cookbook. "My mom found it with a bunch of photos and other things she hadn't seen before," she said.

Parents spread a large table with foods made from old traditional family recipes. Each dish was titled and labeled with the family name and place of origin. Guests and students tasted a variety of kugels, Eastern European and Turkish charosets, tsimmes, a tabbouleh salad, a zucchini bake, an eggless cake and an assortment of cookies. The teachers compiled the recipes into a cookbook that was handed out to students.

In addition, students compiled their stories into a school "Journal of Jewish Family History," which also contains many family photos.

Brad Lakritz, parent of 6-year-old Emily and S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education educational technology coordinator, said: "Tracing our family roots is an important way to help students forge a personal connection with Judaism and Jewish history. This truly is a Jewish feast and celebration."