Chag Notebook: Kristin Eriko Posner

Kristin Eriko Posner is a Japanese-American and Jewish recent bat mitzvah girl, student of tea ceremony, and founder of Nourish Co., an online sanctuary and resource for people and couples of mixed ethnicities.  I am honored she agreed to share her thoughts with us.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve lived in California almost all my life. I grew up in Los Angeles and now live in San Francisco. There was a two-year stint between LA and San Francisco, when I lived in the countryside of Southern Japan. I am lucky enough to run my lifestyle company, Nourish Co., as my full time gig. When I’m not working on Nourish Co., I’m at the stove cooking for family and friends, studying the way of tea, and going on fun adventures with my husband, Bryan. I always come back so inspired.

In what ways do you connect to Judaism?
Even though I grew up without religion, I’ve felt very deeply spiritual for as long as I can remember. I was introduced to Judaism at a young age by friends and was enchanted by all of the beautiful rituals. My husband Bryan is Jewish and very secular, so I know that when we have children one day, I’ll likely be the gatekeeper of our family’s traditions. The day of my conversion was one of the most meaningful days of my life.

After we got married, I found myself wanting to learn more. I am very lucky to be part of an incredibly open-minded Reform congregation. That being said, I look different from most people in our congregation. For a while, I quietly felt painfully self-conscious about it. Then one day, I saw a link in the newsletter for an Anshei Mitzvah course and signed up. Learning Hebrew and studying Torah was incredibly healing for me – it gave me a renewed sense of confidence and a sense of belonging in my community.

Last March, in front of family, friends, and my community, I became Bat Mitzvah at 33 at Congregation Emanu-el in San Francisco; the same synagogue where I converted and where Bryan and I were married. It was the coming of age ceremony I never had. Instead of becoming an adult, I vowed to become a Jewish leader.

How do you prepare to host people for a holiday meal or celebration?
My gameplan sounds intense but it’s not really. It’s spread out over a week, so I just chip away at it. I start brainstorming the menu a week or more in advance. To do this, I refer to a Google doc that lists anyone I’ve ever cooked for and their dietary restrictions and needs. I know this seems crazy but I mostly have this memorized. I grocery shop two to three days before and prep for the next two days. I try to spread it out so I’m not spending many hours in the kitchen at a time. My husband Bryan inevitably runs to the store to pick up things I forgot or herbs and things that need to be really fresh. Bryan is an amazing sous chef and my sister in law Rachel and brother in law Steve usually arrive early, roll up their sleeves and start helping. My family makes an amazing team! For my Bat Mitzvah celebration, we hired a bartender to serve drinks, replenish food and help with cleaning up. It was the best decision because I got to spend every second with my family and friends.

How does the ideal Jewish holiday celebration look and feel to you?
I have two ideal holiday celebrations. One is a full house with all my favorite people, where it’s so loud with people chatting that you can’t even hear the music anymore. My other ideal holiday celebration is an intimate group of loved ones gathered around our dining table for a simple but festive meal. My last job was as a residential interior designer, so lighting is everything to me. We dim all the lights and light lots of candles which makes everything feel really cozy. I like to make a blend of classic Japanese or Ashkenazi Jewish dishes, plus a couple of unexpected takes on them. Often, I make Japanese and Jewish blended dishes like mochi latkes and brisket braised in a homemade Japanese barbecue sauce. I also try to incorporate an element of surprise such as a special ingredient we picked up on our most recent trip or a gorgeous whole roasted fish. My hope is that when each person walks into our home, they feel like they are walking into a giant, comforting hug, knowing that they will be taken care of for a few hours.

Leading up to, during, and after the holidays, how do you reconnect with yourself?
Before everyone comes over, I get ready at my vanity table and sit for a few extra moments with some photos of my grandparents. There is a photo of my paternal grandmother that hangs on my wall that I love. In it, she’s wearing a haori (Japanese-style silk jacket) in front of this incredible spread of Japanese-Hawaiian food she’s prepared for a holiday. Her hair is perfectly coiffed, lips painted her favorite Shiseido pink, and she looks so happy. When I prepare a meal, I am honoring her, my Mom and my aunt: the women who have nourished my generation. Oh and I try to take a hot bath before everyone comes over! The Japanese girl in me loves a nice, long bath.

What is one of your most memorable Jewish holiday experiences?
My most memorable holiday experience is Japanese New Year. Even as an adult, it just feels so magical and special to me. After all the housework is done, my family gathers around the table to make nigiri sushi together. When no one is looking, we put a giant piece of wasabi under some of the sushi. The problem is, everyone does this, so we end up with quite a few very spicy pieces. In Japan, we watch my favorite show ever, which is about all of the different New Year’s food traditions in different regions in Japan. Then, around 11, we bundle up and head over to the neighborhood temple and get in line to ring the bell at midnight. My Mom gets her favorite cup of hot amazake, which warms up our hands. She would always give us a small sip, during which you get a whiff of sweet, fermented rice wine. Whenever I have it, it takes me back to standing in that line at the temple with my family. The next morning, we eat traditional New Year foods and a steaming hot bowl of ozoni, with big gooey pieces of mochi, handmade by my Mom.

What’s your absolute favorite Jewish holiday dish?
Nothing beats a beautiful loaf of challah. Especially if it is homemade! I know for some, Jewish food in America hasn’t always been great, but I think everything can be reinvented to be delicious. My favorite Japanese holiday dish is a Tokyo-style ozoni on New Year’s morning.

Do you have any non traditional Jewish holiday rituals or habits?
All of the holidays in the Posner household are pretty non-traditional. It’s important to us to update rituals that don’t resonate with us. I believe this is what all of our ancestors have done since the beginning of time. While some of our rituals don’t seem traditional to our parents our even us, I hope they will be for our children and future generations (and of course, they can do some of their own updating!)

What was something that your mother (or another influential figure) shared with you about the holidays that has stuck with you?
Some of the most influential figures in my Jewish life are people I’ve never met in real life! I was so lucky to begin my Jewish journey during a time when we have access to so much via the Internet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked to Joan Nathan, Anita Diamant, Tori Avey, Molly Yeh, ARQ and Jewish Food Hero for advice and inspiration!

What’s your number one tip or trick you’ve discovered that makes the holidays smoother, more positive and meaningful for you?
Things can get really hectic leading up to a big holiday meal. During the week before, I try to take some time to reflect on the purpose behind the meal. I find it helpful to think about how I want people to feel when they walk through the door, and why I am hosting. I think about who I am remembering or thinking of, and if it’s an intimate group, I share this with them. I try to think of everything I do as an act of service, and each dish I prepare, an edible prayer. I think cooking for people you love can be a deeply spiritual experience – similar to how preparing a cup of tea for someone in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony is. When this is my lens, it’s impossible for things not to be smooth, positive and meaningful.

Kristin, thank you for sharing. I love how you have found such positive ways of integrating and honouring your Japanese heritage and your Jewish faith.

This post is part of our Chag Notebook series where we interview inspiring women and men about their approach to the holidays. What did you take from Kristin’s notebook? Tell us what you enjoyed in the comments below.

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