Knowing Sylvia

“Everything in life, I guess. When you do something with passion it comes better than just doing it, you know. Everything in life, I think, is like that.”

These are the words that Sylvia imparts as she is being interviewed while having her much deserved lunch before a staff meeting in break (which is just 30 minutes long). For most of you who do not know her, Sylvia is one of the chefs behind the Kosher Kitchen in Clark’s cafeteria, the one who is always full of smiles and hugs despite her demanding duty. And on 30th of April, she talked to me about love, family and passion over a plate of spaghetti, allowing me to get a glimpse into her inner life.

SDG (me): Hi, Sylvia!

SV (Sylvia): Hello

SDG: And where are you from?

SV: Originally? Israel, from the south of Israel.

SDG: When did you come to America?

SV: 1996.

SDG: What made you come here?

SV: My husband (followed by a giggle). We met in Israel.

SDG: Is he American?

SV: Nope. He’s Israeli, but he moved to America. And then after we moved here he said, “No, no we’re just going to be here for a few months and then we’ll go back.” And then twenty years later, we’re still here.

SDG: So, where is home to you then?

SV: (pondering) Right now, home to me is America. But in my heart, Israel is always gonna be my home.

SDG: Always?

SV: Always. You know it’s where all my family is. Basically over here I have my friends, you know when you don’t have a lot of family around you, you surround yourself with lot of friends and they become to be like your second family. So that’s basically what we have here. We have a lot of friends that came to be like a family.

SDG: Friends from Clark or?

SV: Everywhere. Everywhere, community, where I meet people.

SDG: So how would you describe home then?

SV: Home is where your family originally is (from). You know when I go home to Israel, I feel like I’m more….I belong. You know what I mean? I feel like everywhere, we all have the same craziness, we all have the same attitude and now it’s so funny because after 20 years, I’ve adapted all the behavior of the Americans. So when I go to Israel, people make fun of me like “You’ve become American.” So it’s funny.

SDG: So how long have you been working in Clark?

SV: Four years now.

SDG: Four years? So what made you decide to come to Clark?

SV: They needed someone to cook for their kosher section. So they contacted me actually.

SDG: Have you always been cooking?

SV: No, I was a pre-school teacher for seventeen years before.

SDG: Wow, what made you want to cook?

SV: I’ve always loved to cook, always. In the community, whenever people had something, a party or something, I would volunteer to cook for them. So everybody in the community knew that I know how to cook. So when they were talking about opening the kosher section, the rabbi told them, “Oh, I have a lady for you. She knows how to cook.” So they contacted me and asked me if I could come. And when I came I told them, “You know what, I’ve never studied how to be a cook or whatever,” and they said, “Fine, some people have it, god give it to them.” So I started working and they said, “You know what you’re doing.”

SDG: So do you love what you’re doing?

SV: I love it, I love it. Everyday, I come happy to work, you know. I am waiting to come here. Cause the students… I love the students here. It’s like they became to be my children, you know, I care about them. I want them to eat. I want them to love the food. I don’t want them to just eat because they need to eat. So that’s why I make it more special.

SDG: So what do you think is the important thing when it comes to cooking? Is it the recipe, the ingredients, or what do you think it is?

SV: It’s more…. Everybody can follow a recipe, but it’s not going to be the same. The most important thing is you have to love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, and you don’t care about it, it’s not gonna taste the same. Even if I give someone, let’s say I just take someone from the street and tell them, “Here, that’s my recipe you do it and I’ll do it,” it’s not gonna come out the same. You have to have the passion for it. Yeah, everything in life, I guess. When you do something with passion, it comes better than just doing it, you know. Everything in life, I think, is like that.”

SDG: My last question, if you could eat just one thing for your whole entire life, what would it be?

SV: You’re not gonna believe it. Cereal and milk (laughs). I love cereal and milk.

SDG: What kind of cereal?

SV: Cornflake, exactly. You know what’s so funny? Back in Israel, it was very expensive to buy cornflakes. And I remember, when my parents would buy it we’d be so excited. When I came to America (gasps), there’s so much cornflakes! I don’t know why, I just love it.

After the interview is over, which couldn’t last longer due to her short break, she gives me a big hug and an even bigger smile. Then I realize how similar we are – thousands of miles away from home, yet persevering each day to create a sphere of home in a foreign land. And Sylvia does it so gracefully.


(Cover image by author)

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