Latest update: August 3rd, 2012
With great emotion and to the joy of Jewish foodies throughout the world, the Queen of Kosher cooking is coming home to rule the roast/roost. Jamie Geller is making aliyah and though she used to think that life in Israel was “so not me”, she is now encouraging others to take the plunge, too.
The kosher cooking magnate, mom, and returnee to Jewish tradition made the announcement that she is moving to Israel at the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah organization’s June 25 ‘Tweetup’. Since then, Geller has begun to share her experiences with her loyal followers on her ‘Joy of Kosher’ website and in reality-tv-style ‘Joy of Aliyah’ videos.
In an interview with the Jewish Press’s Yishai and Malkah Fleisher, Geller spoke frankly about her opinion of life in the “galus” (Diaspora) and what is driving her to make the move.
“My grandparents survived the Holocaust, and I just don’t feel like they did that so I can live in Spring Valley,” Geller told Jewish Press. “The end is not to achieve it here in America or wherever you may be, and I just feel like I’m a Jewish person and it’s the Jewish homeland, and I want to go home!”
From Highschool to HBO
Geller shared her earliest memory of wanting to live in the Jewish state, remembering a call she placed to her mother during a high school semester in Israel. “I’m not leaving, and if you’re going to make me leave then I’m going to come back after high school, and I’m going to join the army, and I want to live here forever,” Jamie told her mother.
Yet she neither stayed nor donned IDF fatigues after high school as she had planned. “I had that feeling, and it was so strong… [but] by the time I graduated high school, it wasn’t even on my radar anymore. My whole life was just taken up, and I was going to NYU, and I was going to become famous…”
And taken up she became. In just a few years, Jamie had soared to the top of her industry, writing and producing for CNN, Entertainment News, the Food Network, and HBO.
But Israel wasn’t done with Jamie Geller. It wasn’t long before she had a date with a nice young man who told her he wanted to live in Israel. “I was like ‘no way, absolutely not,’ it was almost a deal breaker. I laughed at him – and I was someone who had had those feelings!”
The Persistent Husband
It wasn’t a deal breaker. The couple married, and her husband’s dream of making aliyah did not fade. “My husband has always said – you’re not building a house in galus” and even when they bought their own house, Israel was a frequent topic of conversation.
“I think it was like water on a rock,” Geller said. “We would be Chol HaMoed (interim days of Passover and Sukkot) at Six Flags Great Adventure, an amusement park, and then [my husband] would show pictures of his brother in Hashmonaim… doing a tiyul [hike] in the land… [and it was as if he was saying] ‘it’s Chol HaMoed – what are we doing at Six Flags?’”
But while her husband talked aliyah to Israel, Geller’s career was taking off in America. In 2007, she authored her first cookbook, Quick & Kosher Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing, with her second, Quick & Kosher: Meals in Minutes soon to follow. Now, Jamie publishes the largest online kosher cooking website, JoyofKosher.com, and a top-of-the-line accompanying magazine, Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller.
Saying Goodbye to the Serving Dishes
Yet with all that American success, Geller told the Jewish Press that she is ready to take on the challenges of life in Israel. “I’m not going out of a position of weakness, I’m leaving a 3400 square foot home behind to go live in something double the price that’s half the size, but I’m doing it because I believe it is the right thing and the best thing for our family… I know that I’ll be working extra and double, but it’s a small price to pay to be there.”
Along with the smaller space, Geller does not much lament the little things she will leave behind, including her oversized American furniture and special serving dishes (“ain’t no room for once-a-year serving platters in Israel”, she said in one of her Joy of Aliyah videos). “I don’t think that’s a reason, just because I love blueberries, not to live in Israel. Those are silly to me… that’s not on my top list of worries. I’ve got other ones.”
Her list is short but typical of many immigrants to Israel – the pain of leaving family members behind, trying to learn the ropes in a new country, finding the right place for her family to live, and helping her children acclimate to a new culture.
Friend to the Lone Yiddish Mamas
Then there are the people Jamie has touched. Geller’s success has not only brought her to the forefront of kosher cooking, but has made her a role model for Jewish women around the world. On her Joy of Aliyah blog, a fan calling herself the “lone Yiddish mama” thanked Geller for inspiring her to cook kosher food and come closer to Judaism:
“I have been your “fan” for a while…YOU have helped me out so many a time with yom tov and Shabbos dinners.. I live totally isolated from anything Jewish..including Kosher food stores…so needless to say many of your lovely yummy “quic” recipes have become “not so quick” for me, but still fantastic..because you gave me the desire and will to “JUST DO IT”! AND now with this new chapter of your life..Aliyah..Well it’s gotten me to thinking.. who knows?? If “our” Jamie can leave her world where it was already easier to be Jewish compared to where we live..well…B”H there’s a Yiddish light at the end of tunnel for us too!”
But it took time for Geller to adopt the enthusiastic and ideological approach she now has toward leaving America in favor of a life in Israel. Yet with her newfound clarity has come a sense of confusion.
“Why are we ignoring this mitzvah?” Geller asked. “If we come to it from a religious perspective, a religious person is going to keep kosher, they’re going to keep Shabbat, why are they not going to live in the land of Israel? There are certain things that are deal breakers, and this one for some reason, didn’t make it. “
“You Have to be Almost Spiritually Dead”
While she did not criticize Jews who have not yet chosen to make aliyah, and empathized with the fears associated with the major step, she said “I think you have to be almost spiritually dead if you actually have the opportunity to get to Israel and it doesn’t affect you in a profound way at least…“
With her celebrity and production know-how, Jamie was an ideal figure to help Nefesh b’Nefesh spread the message of aliyah. So while Jamie is receiving the assistance all eligible aliyah applicants receive from the organization, she is not just a client, she’s also a spokesperson.
Beginning with the Nefesh B’Nefesh Tweetup at which she made her announcement, Geller has dedicated all of her multimedia resources to sharing the Joy of Aliyah with her readers, viewers, and social media followers. “I just couldn’t let this move to Israel, our decision to make aliyah, to not make a statement with it and not do something that could hopefully empower, excite, inspire other people who are on the cusp or even just for some reason… aren’t thinking about it. I would love to start that conversation for them,” she said.
Geller praises Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization assisting her, her family, and the 359 Jews on the August 14 charter flight from New York, saying it has made the technicalities of aliyah “plug-and-play”. She also encouraged followers to check out her Joy of Aliyah videos – made in coordination with Nefesh b’Nefesh – on the Joy of Kosher website. Upcoming episodes will include the family’s final day in America, their arrival, and the first 48 hours in Israel.
Beyond the fame, Geller is a real mom who is “just trying to get food on the table”and is now embarking on a new, and very real, adventure. Yet she continues to inspire precisely because her realness shows through. On her blog, she wrote back to Yiddish Mama:
“I didn’t grow up religious, I didn’t grow up kosher… I have become so far away from what I ever thought or dreamed. And I am thankful to Hashem for that fact everyday. The last few years I struggled with this decision. I had so much fear, so much apprehension. I was NEVER going to move to Israel. Never. This was so NOT me. And you know… after a lot of struggle I am now so at peace with the decision… I wish you incredible brachos to continue to be a pillar wherever you are (WHERE ARE YOU?!?) and hope that you will join us in Israel. L’Shana Habba B’Yerushalayim. My husband always said/says we should mean that and this year when we said it, we did.”
About the Author: Malkah Fleisher is a graduate of Cardozo Law School in New York City. She is an editor/staff writer at JewishPress.com and co-hosts a weekly Israeli FM radio show. Malkah lives with her husband and two children on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
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