From the inception of Operations Moses, Joshua, and Solomon over three decades ago, Jewish Federations around the globe and The Jewish Agency for Israel have played a central role in mobilizing support and resources to bring Ethiopian Jews home to Israel, reuniting them with their families already in country and helping them integrate into Israeli society. Israel is, however, not the only country to which Ethiopians—Jewish and not—have immigrated. The Ethiopian diaspora in America is estimated to be nearly 300,000; the majority of those arrived on our shores during and after 2000. Of those several hundred thousand, it is estimated that some 2,000 are Ethiopian Jews, though it is unknown how many Ethiopian immigrants living in the States are, like the subject of this article, Jewish by choice.
One such immigrant is Aida Novick.
Like immigrants from time immemorial, she brought to her new country the traditions of her homeland. And, like immigrants the world over, one of the cultural gems she safeguarded were family recipes—for what is more resonant than the tastes of one’s childhood? While Ethiopian green beans à la Aida may not be traditionally Jewish, they are very much a piece of her history and her heart and, now, her American-Jewish home.
Guest post by Bill St. John
Bill St. John has written and taught about restaurants, food, cooking and wine for more than 40 years, locally for Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, and KCNC-TV Channel 4, and nationally for Chicago Tribune Newspapers and Wine & Spirits magazine. A Denver native, St. John lives in his hometown.
Aida Nozick has lived in the worlds of many religions during her 40-so years of living in this one.
Nozick, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of a Muslim mother and a Christian father. After she moved to this country, in 1986, she attended both Roman Catholic high school (in Memphis, Tenn.) and Roman Catholic college (in South Bend, Ind.).
She met her husband, David, just after university. Prior to their marriage, he asked her that, if they had children, “Would [she] raise them as Jews?” She agreed and, while rearing the two Nozick offspring, twins Leah and Daniel (now both 18), as Jewish children, she studied Judaism and was so taken with it that she converted.
Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Jewish—four worlds, one person.
Someone once asked her, “How did your parents react to your conversion?” She responded, with a chuckle, “What are they going to say? One is a Christian; one is a Muslim. Neither of them took on the other’s religion.
“The more I learned about Judaism,” she says, “the deeper I felt connected to it. It became really meaningful to me; it became part of my everyday thinking. The decision to convert was very natural.”
The values of Judaism spoke to Nozick “personally,” she says. “I did my conversion for myself.”
She ticks off those Jewish values that are significant tor her, explaining that “I live and breathe them because of my profession and work. Here I am today working at the Jewish Federation, living a very Jewish life.”
First among those significant Jewish values, she says, “is that the world is bigger than you are and you have a reasonability to make it better. Second, the role of women [in Judaism] is very different from what I experienced growing up; these women were the strength of the household. And finally, I appreciate the idea of questioning, that you just don’t accept things as they are; you debate, you discuss. It is the way of growth.”
She truly did raise her children not only to be Jews but to think in the Jewish way as well. She relates a moving anecdote: “I was struggling with a problem that I had from work,” she says. “I was angry about it and did not consider it from a perspective of kindness or compassion. My daughter just said, ‘What does Judaism say about this?’
“It floored me when she said that,” Nozick, says. “Well, I had my answer.”
Nonetheless, Nozick remains wholly Ethiopian, too. “I love being an Ethiopian,” she says, “I love being who I am.
“I cook Ethiopian food regularly. I always think that food is the best way to introduce anybody into a group or culture not their own.”
Ethiopian, Jewish—one person, one kitchen.
Fossolia | Ethiopian Green Beans, Carrots & Potatoes
From Aida Nozick, for the Small Federations’ Ethiopian Israelis Learning Series. Recipe adapted to (Denver) Colorado elevation.
Fossolia, a dish cooked widely in Northern Africa and throughout the Middle East, here with an Ethiopian touch.
Serves 6-8 as a side dish.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
3 large tomatoes (such as beefsteak), chopped (or 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick sticks
2 large potatoes (such as Yukon Gold or other yellow), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound (4 cups) fresh green beans, ends snapped off and cut or snapped into halves or thirds
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and chopped
In a large pot, heat the olive oil, add the diced onion and sauté until soft. Add the garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and turmeric and cook for 5-8 minutes on medium-low heat.
Add the carrots and cook until medium-soft, about 10-12 minutes; then add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 12-14 minutes. Add the green beans and cover the pot. Allow everything to cook for another 10-12 minutes. Add the salt and jalapeño for the last 2 minutes of cooking.