Growing up, I’ve always been very in touch with my Jewish heritage. My mom made sure of that by enrolling me in Jewish Day School from the time I was in kindergarten until there were no more grades left in the school and I had to go to pubic school. But I continued my Jewish education by going to Religious School twice a week through high school graduation.
When I was in first grade (maybe second?), I went through a conversion ceremony where my mom told me I had to memorize the prayers. Turns out you can repeat them after the rabbi, but my mom conveniently forgot to tell me that.
When I was twelve, I had a Bat Mitzvah. I dutifully learned my Torah portion and my Haftorah.
When I was fourteen, I went on a trip with my confirmation class to New York City. Not only did Jessica Berman and I confuse our roommates by not being twins, but one of the other rabbis seriously doubted my participation in the trip and almost denied me a complimentary pickle from Guss’ Pickles. Clearly, this has stuck with me.
When I was twenty, I went on Birthright Israel as part of the Cornell contingent. Our bus driver spoke more Korean than I did and I had people coming up to me a bowing and screaming Konnichiwa at me from across the street. Despite that, I felt pretty comfortable in Israel.
When I was 25, I joined a temple here in Maryland. I actually went there for a number of years before becoming a legitimate member, but it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I may have been the only 25 year-old member which led to just as many inquisitive looks and questions as the fact that I’m Korean.
And at 27, Andrew and I have Shabbat dinner at our house on a fairly regular basis. Regular enough that Andrew is learning the prayers over the wine and bread in Hebrew. I’m so proud of him.
So, what does that have to do with kimchi? Not all that much. Except to say, that I’ve had a very strong, present Jewish upbringing and it has translated appropriately into my current life.
In contrast, I went to Korean school when I was younger. I don’t remember exactly what age I was, but I do remember not liking it. Most of the kids there spoke Korean at home and were there to learn how to read and write in Korean. I knew nothing, and spent many of those mornings sitting there confused as I tried to figure out what was going on.
At the end of the year there was a talent show. Kids performed traditional Korean dances, songs, and taekwondo demonstrations (which I participated in because you didn’t have to actually understand what the instructor was saying as long as you could copy the motions). My talent one year was standing up in front of the audience and answering simple questions in Korean. It seems silly to think about it now, but I was really proud of myself back them.
However, after a few years, I begged and begged and begged my mother to let me quit. And after a while, I think schlepping me here and there finally wore her down and she let me give up Korean school. I promised to continue practicing my letters and words, which meant that of course I did not, and promptly forgot all of my Korean.
At fourteen, my mom and I went to Korea. I remember being completely jet-lagged the entire trip and eating an insane amount of walnut cookies. I also remember feeling very uncomfortable the entire time I was there. It was strange to look like I belonged but to not feel like I did at all.
When I was twenty, I took taekwondo at school for a gym class. It was sort of embarrassing to be Korean and not know how to count to ten.
I introduced Andrew to Korean food which he has wholeheartedly embraced. We go out for Korean fairly often and I am always greeted in Korean to which I reply with a blank stare and a sheepish shrug as I explain that I don’t speak Korean.
So again, what’s this have to do with kimchi? I guess you could say, that it’s taken me a while, but I’m finally coming around on this Korean thing. I’m finally starting to get interested in the culture and language of my background.
My mother taught me how to cook some basic Korean dishes when I was younger, but I’ve just now reached the point where I’m willing and able to try some new recipes. Ah…so this is where the kimchi comes in. A while back, Andrew and I were watching No Reservations and he went to Korea. He watched some ladies make some kimchi. It didn’t look too hard, so this afternoon I decided to give it a whirl.
While it was time-consuming, it wasn’t all that difficult. We’ll have to wait a little while to see how it turns out, but if this is something I can manage, maybe I’ll learn to count to twenty in Korean (hey, after all this taekwondo, I’ve finally mastered up to ten).