Kate Bigam is a writer and community manager for a Jewish non-profit organization. I found her blog and immediately reached out to her for an interview!
Let’s get to know Kate Bigam and learn from her.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Kate, a newly thirty-something writer/blogger/aspiring author from the Midwest. I’ve been blogging for seven (!) years now, I freelance for a few professional outlets, and I have a full-time job as a community manager for a Jewish non-profit. I’m currently in search of new hobbies; right now I watch a ton of Netflix, am a big fan of sending snail mail, and am always looking for the next little adventure.
How do you connect to Judaism?
I grew up in a Reform Jewish synagogue in Ohio, where I was consecrated, became a bat mitzvah, and was confirmed. Still, I was the only Jewish kid at my elementary and middle schools, so despite my mother’s best efforts, I didn’t necessarily have a Jewish-heavy childhood.
After college, on a whim, I took a one-year political advocacy fellowship with a Reform Jewish advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., which turned into a full-time job and then morphed into a few different position with them. Seven years later, I still work there! My job has introduced to my closest friends – all of whom are also Reform Jews – and so now I have a strong, vibrant community of Jewish friends who help keep me connected to our faith and our traditions.
Tell us one of your favorite holiday memories!
Most of my friends travel home to be with their families for the High Holidays, but in 2009, a few of us were without plans. Jewish holidays are best celebrated communally – it’s really sad to do them alone – so my friend Elissa invited a few of us stragglers to her tiny apartment for a homemade Rosh Hashanah dinner.
We spent the evening drinking wine and telling stories, laughing a lot, and of course, enjoying some incredible food. The kugel Elissa made that night was the best I’ve ever had (this one, with brown sugar and pecans), and in addition to the traditional apples and honey, she also passed around small bowls of symbolic Rosh Hashanah fruits like figs, dates, and pomegranates.
It was wonderful to spend the holiday with friends, reflecting on the outgoing year and anticipating the new one together, hosting a little dinner party like real adults. Elissa, who was accepted into rabbinical school soon after that celebration, died of cancer a few years later, which makes my memory of that night all the sweeter.
What’s most exciting about having friends and family over for a holiday?
I have a studio apartment, so I never play hostess, but I look forward to the day when I can throw a potluck for friends, and maybe become a person who turns to Pinterest for home décor ideas.
But really, the best part of being with friends and family for the holidays is, well, being with friends and family for the holidays. Judaism places an emphasis and priority on the concept of kehillah kedosha, sacred community; our tradition implores us to move beyond our individual selves and worship together, celebrate together, even mourn together. Spending the holidays with loved ones, then, isn’t just fun – it’s also a mitzvah, a good deed.
How does a perfect holiday celebration look and feel to you?
I’m big on Jewish holiday celebrations that involve guided reflection and social justice components.
My friends and I hosted a Passover seder this year, and we wrote our own haggadah. In it, we incorporated readings that related the holiday’s themes to modern-day social justice issues and the importance of engaging in tikkun olam, the repair of our broken world.
We also asked everyone to bring an object of particular importance to them, something attached to a story, and during the seder, we went around in a circle and talked about our objects. It was an opportunity to inject some personality into our holiday observance – to feel like we were there because we wanted to be, not because we had to be.
Judaism is a modern, evolving faith with so much room for interpretation and artistic license; I like for my holiday celebrations to incorporate both traditional elements and more modern ones, fusing ancient faith and contemporary practice.
How do you prepare to host people for a holiday meal or celebration?
I’m going to be really honest with you: I can’t cook a lick. It’s just not a gene I seem to have inherited. The cool thing about Jewish tradition, though, is that food is such an integral part of creating community and making memories that even if I’m not hosting or cooking, there’s work to be done and help to be given.
I’m an expert potato peeler, vegetable chopper, table setter, etc. – whatever the host needs that doesn’t require me to actually be in charge of a dish, I’m ready and willing to do it. It takes a village, right?
What’s your absolute favorite holiday dish?
I love latkes so much. So much. What’s not to like about fried potatoes? I love any excuse to eat glorified hash browns for dinner, especially when they’re extra-crispy on the outside and a little bit mushy inside.
There are also all kinds of twists on the traditional latke recipe that I’m dying to try – sweet potato latkes, zucchini latkes, carrot and persimmon latkes, pumpkin latkes… OK, I have to stop, I’m getting hungry. (P.S. I’m an applesauce gal all the way. You’ll find no sour cream atop my potato pancakes!)
What is one thing you hope to improve vis a vis the holidays?
I’d love to learn to cook – better, or at all. I’m moving back in with my mother for a bit, and while I thought that might feel lame, I’m actually really looking forward to it – not least of all because it means that maybe she can teach me some of her culinary secrets. We’ve already been emailing some recipes back and forth, and I’m excited about the prospect of spending some quality time in the kitchen with my mom. What’s more Jewish than that?!
Read the Chag Notebook: Sarah Zadok.