This past December, I was honored by Jewish Women International as a “Woman to Watch.” JWI’s mission is to end violence against women, empower women and girls through programs that teach financial literacy, educate teens and college students about healthy relationships and teen dating violence; build children’s libraries in domestic shelters; and advocate the rights of women and girls in Washington. It was truly a high honor to be singled out for my work as “the kosher baker,” for bringing joy to people’s lives and celebrations by changing the culture of Jewish cooking and baking.
Each of the women honored was asked to share a pearl of wisdom, what we have learned on our journeys. Here is mine:
When I was 12, I sat in grandma’s kitchen in Brooklyn and watched her measure cake ingredients with her hands. Thirty-five years later, I taught a cooking class in that same kitchen for a synagogue that had bought grandma’s house. At that moment, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be. Your job in life is to figure out what you are supposed to be doing and then go after it.
People say a business is built brick by brick. But they are wrong. Expect a lot of pebbles before there are any bricks. Meaning, not everything happens in big, significant chunks. Sometimes it’s the small things, the pebbles, that pave your path. And even after you achieve some bricks, you still find yourself adding the little pebbles on your pile. Even now I hear, “No!” and remind myself to keep building. I was once told there was no market for kosher baking cookbooks. After three cookbooks in five years, someone was wrong. But I certainly had to work very hard to prove it!
I’m often told that I do too much professionally. While raising four amazing children with a great man—who by the way is always on a diet—I travel the world teaching classes for Jewish institutions. I have packed into one week seven events in three cities and have done two TV shows over two days on opposite coasts. And I have 3 more books and a new product in my head. But there is a reason I do as much as I can, and this lesson, sadly, gets reinforced over and over: Life throws you curveballs, so you better go to bat every chance you get and bank some home runs.
I know I am not changing the world, like my fellow honorees, but I am privileged to improve food in our community and to modernize traditional recipes while making them easier and healthier. I connect people with tastes from their late grandmothers’ kitchens. My recipes are staples at baby namings and shiva houses. I develop recipes for birthday cakes for children with multiple allergies. I know I am doing good in the world because life really is about the small pleasures: a bite of babka, a spoon of sticky toffee pudding, the perfect macaron, a slice of lemon rosemary biscotti.
My pearl is this: if you are doing something you love, something good will come of it. And when it gets really hard, tell yourself what I did while competing on Food Network’s Sweet Genius: “Look where you are. Look at what you are doing. You are so lucky to be there, so enjoy it and do your best.”