Fellows Christmas Party: Food, Light & Hope

“If there is no bread, there is no Torah,” is an old adage in Judaism that speaks to the need to feed the body before you can feed the soul, as deep learning doesn’t happen with an empty stomach. Rabbi Jack Bemporad continues “Without Torah, there is no bread.” Food and spirituality are intrinsically linked. On Monday Dec 14th, the Russell Berrie Fellows met up from around the world to celebrate this year’s Fellow’s Christmas Party on Zoom. The focus of the evening was building community and sharing traditional holiday foods from each Fellow’s culture. You can have a “taste” of this international group here below by trying the recipes yourself!

Ana, a fellow from Romania spoke about Cozonac: a citrus-scented sweet yeast dough is twisted around a nutty filling, creating a spiral design when baked into bread.

Elena, Senior Program Manager of the JPII Center in Rome, is Italian and she spoke about everyone’s favorite Panettone cake that never goes bad unless it sits too long at Gianluca’s house before it’s re-gifted.

Gianluca, an Italian-American Fellow, shared that his family owned a restaurant where he served a 7 Fish dinner on Christmas Eves and traditionally they ate Gnocchi and Arancini di Riso (Sicilian Rice Balls).

Magda, Graduate Administrative Assistant at the JPII Center, originally from Georgia, offered Churchkhela, a traditional Georgian cuisine candle-shaped candy made of grape must, nuts, and flour. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and chocolate and sometimes raisins are threaded onto a string, dipped in thickened grape juice or fruit juices and dried in the shape of a sausage.

Sr. Mary, a Fellow from Nigeria told us about a few dishes including Fried Rice and FuFu, a staple food common in many countries in West Africa and Central Africa made from cassava root flour.

Gloria, a Fellow originally from Bolivia, shared about Christmas Picana, a soup made with various types of meat, potatoes and vegetables, along with both wine and beer. Traditionally, picana is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Ruki, A fellow from Sri Lanka spoke about Kiribath (Milk Rice), a rice Pudding eaten with spicy beef.

Christopher, a Fellow in Cameroon shared Egusi Pudding, savory bites made with African egusi seeds and chunks of protein and spices.

Sr. Jisha, a Fellow from Kerala in India spoke about Kerala Appam, bowl-shaped thin pancakes made from fermented rice flour.

Fr. Baiju, another Fellow from Kerala in India shared another traditional food, Orappam, a rice flour and coconut milk cake with nuts.

Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Director Emeritus of the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue and Professor at the Angelicum with the Russell Berrie Fellows, shared a story about receiving a fruitcake every year as a gift for Christmas during his time working as a Rabbi in Dallas, Texas.

Sophie, another Italian-American Fellow, enjoys Lasagna for Christmas and thumbprint cookies like her grandmother made.

Elyse, the JPII Center’s Media Coordinator, is Ukrainian-Canadian and shared that most of her holidays center around Perogies, potato-filled dumplings that can be served in a variety of ways, often topped with Sour cream.

Fr.Emmanuel, another Nigerian Fellow, did not learn to cook when he was young. He had to learn to cook through YouTube tutorials while living in Australia since he deeply missed the food back home. The pictures he shared on his phone of him in the process of making fried rice are proof. Check out your own Youtube Nigerian Fried-Rice tutorial here

At the party, although we could not be together in person, we shared a rich spiritual holiday feast of joyful hearts and warm smiles. We hope that your winter holidays will be filled with kindness and memories that will warm your heart for years to come. Happy Holidays from the JPII Center Team!