By Eva Trieger
Passover. Pesach. The word evokes so many memories, images and sensory responses. For me, it means relatives whom I haven’t seen in years pinching my cheeks and the perpetual family matzo ball competition — no, not to see whose is the lightest or fluffiest, but who creates the “greatest” matzo ball, prompting an uncle to make one the size of his tureen. And sadly, with an April birthday, it often meant a sponge cake instead of the traditional, well-loved chocolate frosted layer cake. I wish my mom had known about “Queen of Kosher,” Jamie Geller.
On May 19 from 3-5 pm, the Jewish National Fund is holding a tea to demonstrate their gratitude to all of the women who have supported Israel through JNF programming This elegant and delectable event will be hosted in a unique setting in La Jolla, and the menu will consist of Jamie Geller’s inspired recipes.
Geller was raised in Philadelphia and grew up in a Conservative, non-kosher home. She reports that her parents, both immigrants, placed great value on higher education, perhaps upstaging the focus on ritual practice or religious observance. This ideology led Geller to enroll in NYU and pursue a career in producing for TV and cable.
After graduating NYU, Geller earned recognition and celebrity as an award winning TV producer for CNN and HBO. She was living the hectic urban life, working 20 hours a day on set, with little time to familiarize herself with her own kitchen, let alone cook, when she met her now- husband. Nachum, in 2003. The pair met on a blind date and within just two weeks became engaged. Geller reported that her oven was used for storing her sweaters until after her marriage, when Nachum innocently asked, “What’s for dinner?” Geller replied, “I don’t know–you tell me!” And thus, a career was born. Under the tutelage of her husband, coupled with her own instincts and desire to create tasty, healthy kosher meals, Geller founded the Kosher Food Network and began writing cookbooks. At this writing, Quick & Kosher Recipes From the Bride Who Knew Nothing is enjoying its 7th printing.
Just two months after their engagement, the couple married, and Nachum continued to erode Geller’s resistance to making aliyah and raising their family in Israel. Today, the couple and their six children reside in Ramat Beit Shemesh, where Geller continues to hone her craft of developing fast, kosher, and delicious recipes, while hosting a YouTube channel and website. It is said of the “Jewish Rachael Ray” that her goal is to “get you out of the kitchen–not because she doesn’t love food–but because she has tons to do,” just as she knows her viewers do.
L’CHAIM MAGAZINE: What was the first dish you were proud of mastering?
Jamie Geller: The classics. Matzo Ball Soup and Potato Kugel. I was proud because they reminded me of my heritage, the Jewish holidays, my grandparents’ house, and because the first time I made both they were colossal flops. My first potato kugel came out like a flat, brown, 2-toned, mealy Passover cake.” (Geller promises to share the story of her first attempt at Chicken Soup during her San Diego visit, and assures me it will be met with laughter.)
L’CHAIM: Where do you find inspiration for your cookbooks?
JG: Inspiration comes from everywhere, everyone and everything (dinner parties, Shabbat meals, restaurants, magazines, cooking shows etc. Fans write all the time asking for specific recipes.
L’CHAIM: Can you share a couple of your favorite Passover recipes?
JG: Matzo Balls, (which I’ve made on the Today Show a number of times), Brisket (also seen on the Today Show), and Potato Kugel (the video has over 1 million views).
L’CHAIM: How did you become affiliated with JNF?
JG: We grew up planting trees for every milestone and momentous occasion and then I had the honor of meeting Russell Robinson for the first time on my Aliyah flight. Since then it’s been a string of meetings to discuss “how can we work together to support the land and people of Israel” a vision and mission so near and dear to both of our hearts. I am thrilled to have been able to bring awareness to the New JNF Culinary institute being built in the north as part of the Cook & Chat Chopped Competition at the last National Conference, and now have the privilege of broadcasting the monthly JNF day trips to my audience of almost 1.5 million on social media. OOOOH, and my favorite–This Yom Ha’Atzmaut, we are giving away a trip to Israel together with the JNF–that makes me most happy!
While Geller’s experience of planting trees is one shared by many of us, along with the little blue pushke boxes, I learned from San Diego Director, James Kimmey, that JNF is so much more than that. All money raised through JNF goes directly to projects in Israel. The dream initiated by Theodor Herzl continues into perpetuity, and that is the entire goal of the organization.
Kimmey shared that the biggest challenge is to get Americans to understand the scope of the projects and their impact in Israel. JNF is no longer just the trees, yes they’ve planted over 260 million trees since their founding in 1901, but the JNF of today focuses on so much more. For example, JNF offers therapeutic and rehabilitative services to people with special needs. They build playgrounds, synagogues, daycare and community centers, and JNF continues to be the single largest provider of Zionist engagement programs in the US.Though he’s only been on board since October 2016, Kimmey has already seen some exciting growth in the organization’s presence and exposure in San Diego. He told me that there is an unprecedented, perceptible buzz and that each event has been record breaking in terms of attendance and fundraising. The result is a very tangible difference in the lives of people in Israel.
I wanted to know if Kimmey had met Geller, and though he follows her Instagram, he has not yet had the pleasure. When asked if he cooks, the Director laughed heartily, and said, “No, but it would save me a lot of money if I did!” I inquired as to his favorite “Jewish” dish and he immediately said, “JNF First Lady and San Diegan Lauren Lizerbram makes the absolute best brisket!”
This very special Women for Israel Tea will be held in an elegant setting in a private home in La Jolla, where attendees will enjoy connecting with Jamie Geller while enjoying a farm-to-table experience. Those being celebrated include members in our community who support the Women for Israel campaign and give graciously and with a whole heart.
Event Chairs include: Patrice Gold, Robyn Goldberg, Debbie Kornberg, and Susan Chortek Weisman. Shari Schenk is the San Diego President of this chapter, and Myra Chack Fleischer is the Women for Israel National President.
To learn more, RSVP by May 9 to James Kimmey at email@example.com or by phone at (858) 824-9178, ext. 988.