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the heartbeat of Jewish life

This is an excerpt from issue 78 of our weekly newsletter. To subscribe, click here!

Hey you,

Growing up, I always celebrated Christmas. I still do. But as I’ve gotten older, it’s come to my attention how underrepresented Judaism is this time of year (and frankly, most of the year!). That’s why I wanted to put out this issue, because representation matters.

I won’t pretend I know much about the Jewish faith. However, I’ve compiled a few voices in this issue that know quite a bit. I hope you will make space for them during this otherwise Santa-filled time of year.

Wishing you and your family warmth and light this Hanukkah season.

Big hugs,

Sage
Founder, be.

Lisa Fero (she/her) started her career in the fashion industry as a buyer for major retailers. When celebrating the Jewish holidays, however, she had a difficult time finding contemporary décor for her home. She wanted to make her home joyous and special for her kids, and a beautiful place to gather with friends and family. One day, a lightbulb went off, and Lisa realized that she could create products! Peace Love Light was launched in September 2017. It began with Hanukkah decorations and is now a lifestyle brand carrying stylish décor and gifts for Jewish holidays and celebrations.  

You are the Owner and Chief of Design for Peace Love Light, a shop full of curated collections of fresh, stylish decor and gifts for modern Jewish living! What inspired you to start Peace Love Light and how has it grown over the years?

I was working as an interior designer and loved decorating my own home, but was frustrated by the limited selection of merchandise that fit my contemporary style for the Jewish holidays. I believed that if I felt this way, others did as well.  

I started working with artisans to design Hanukkah decorations and launched Peace Love Light in September 2017. Since then, we have grown our offerings to become a Jewish ‘lifestyle’ brand and are proud of the stylish and contemporary Jewish holiday decor, gifts, jewelry, and apparel that our online shop carries. My ultimate goal for Peace Love Light is to provide products to our customers that highlight the beauty in Judaism, have an updated feel, but are rooted in tradition.  

On our social media sites and newsletter, I've really enjoyed sharing inspirational tips for the Jewish holidays, design ideas, new product introductions, customer photos, quotes about love and inclusivity, and topics that are near and dear to my heart. Peace Love Light is much more than an online store to me!

How does your family celebrate Hanukkah? Do you have any special traditions your family practices each year? 

For Hanukkah, we love to gather with family and friends to celebrate. Over the last couple of years, we have experimented with some new latke recipes, which have become part of our new traditions. Lighting the menorah each night is another of our traditions; we love to alternate and use different menorahs throughout the holiday.

What are some of your favorite ways to decorate for Jewish holidays? What are your favorite items from your shop to use?

A beautiful table setting is key for the Jewish holidays in my home. I love to use our linen and embroidered items, such as our challah cover and matzoh cover. Another favorite is the ten plague napkins; we all enjoy dipping and spilling ten drops of wine commemorating the ten plagues during the Seder. 

On Hanukkah, my foyer and mantle are the centerpieces of my home. A piece of our Hanukkah art is displayed, as are an assortment of menorahs. One of my favorite items is a simple glass hurricane filled with metallic dreidels.  

What is your favorite aspect of being Jewish?

To me, being Jewish is not simply a religion, but also a culture and a way of life, forming our identity and providing a sense of community. There are so many beautiful traditions that we share from generation to generation that make us who we are. The memories of singing songs and prayers and lighting candles with my grandparents are what have guided my own home and the traditions we all follow today. Another special part of our tradition is the food! There is nothing like good matzoh ball soup and a pastrami sandwich (half kidding)! The food is amazing and most importantly, it brings together family and friends.   

If you could tell us anything about Judaism, what would it be?

I think Judaism today is diverse, and while there are many different levels of observance, there is a strong bond or connection within the community. As Judaism evolves, many sectors are becoming more open and inclusive than they were in the past. As the granddaughter of holocaust survivors, I feel that it is imperative for our generation and future generations to learn from the past and keep their stories alive. 

Jackie Yeshim (she/her) is the creator of Home Over House, a blog she started when she first got married and was pregnant with her first child. Three years later (three under 3 kids later) she uses HOH’s social platform to connect and share Jewish culture. Growing up in a Jewish home with 8 brothers and sisters, Jackie has a lot under her belt when it comes to cooking and homemaking, because if there's one thing she can tell you about coming from a Jewish home, it’s that we know how to eat and host!

You identify as a "kosher homemaker." How long have you been kosher? What does that look like for you and your family currently?

Becoming a kosher homemaker had a lot to do with the way I was raised. I’m one of eight children, and while we all had our own hectic schedules, sitting at Shabbat dinner and enjoying a meal together was our way of staying rooted. Having a home-cooked meal made with love definitely went a long way in our home, and it means just as much today in my own home, where we are a family of 5! 

What is your favorite kosher meal? 

Oh, hands down chamin (a.k.a. Cholent)! If you’re not familiar with this traditional meal, which is cooked for more than 24 hours, this is your sign to make it! It’s this hearty, filling, slow-cooked meal prepared to serve a large family or guests for Shabbat lunch on Saturdays. It consists of meat, barley, potatoes, jachnun (sweet dough), and eggs. It’s taken me five years to really perfect it, and at this point, it’s definitely a meal I can cook with my eyes closed!

Besides cooking, what are some other ways you bring Judaism into your home?

Buying flowers every Friday, lighting Shabbat candles, and blessing my home. My favorite thing, however, is making challah for Shabbat dinner. My kids help me make it, and it’s always something I look forward to doing with them every week. 

What is your favorite Jewish holiday to cook for? Why?

Purim! It may have something to do with my Hebrew name being Esther, but also because it truly is such a joyous holiday. It’s required to give gifts that contain food, which is something I love to do.

What is a dish that you make again and again and don't get tired of? 

You can’t beat my one-pot chicken and rice dish you can find on my site and Instagram! I know it sounds so simple, but the flavors of toasted pine nuts and raisins just elevate it to such a great dish. Oh, and nothing beats a quick meal you can stick in the oven and forget about for the hour! 

Initially trained in journalism and literature, Estie Kessler’s (she/her) mantra was edit, then edit some more. She quickly realized that this translates to interior design and life at large, which is why curating a beautiful lifestyle is so important. Now more than ever, our homes have become a shelter and safe haven against the unpredictable forces beyond them. Jewish wisdom has long placed importance on the home as the heartbeat of Jewish life. Estie’s vision is to celebrate this through elevating everyday living.

You are an interior designer and a mama of toddlers. How does your job as an interior designer and as a mother intersect with your faith?

Judaism is not something that can be "turned off" when not in use. It's a lifestyle, a culture, a heritage... a weight of over 5000 years to be carried from one generation to the next. And the home is the heartbeat of Jewish life. I view my profession as essential, since our homes are the backdrop to the story we are each telling, and a reflection of ourselves onto the world around us. Jewish wisdom teaches us that our purpose in this world is to elevate the physical into the spiritual, to find a deeper meaning in the mundane. I find that by intentionally cultivating a home that brings joy and purpose we can begin to accomplish that goal.  

You moved to the U.S. from Russia. What is the Jewish community like in Russia? How is it different from the U.S.? 

I was three when my family emigrated from Russia (the former U.S.S.R.). Under Communism, practicing Judaism, and religion in general, was not allowed. We arrived in the U.S. with political refugee status. Although I have never been back, Russian Jewish life is very different today. It is a thriving community with many kosher restaurants, Jewish organizations, schools, and shuls (synagogues). I think one main difference is the diversity of communities throughout the Jewish spectrum that we have the opportunity to experience in America; one size does not fit all. 

How do you share your faith with your children? What has it been like to raise children in the Jewish faith? 

My vision is to offer a rich and wholesome life experience to our children as they grow and are shaped into their future selves, albeit through a Jewish lens. For example, I love introducing new flavors to them within the parameters of kosher, and while making a blessing before we eat the food. I also love traveling around the world knowing that, wherever we are, on Friday night we'll light candles to usher in Shabbat. I don't find Judaism limiting, but rather empowering. There's a beauty that can be found within restraint.

What is your favorite Jewish holiday? Why is it special to you? 

I've always loved the holiday of Sukkot. The changing of the seasons, the symbolism, hosting outdoor meals with harvest-themed foods (hello figs and pomegranates!) really speaks to me. And my first baby was born on the first night of Sukkot, which makes it that much more special. 

If you could tell us one thing about Judaism, what would you want us to know?

The great sage Hillel was once asked to summarize the entire Torah while standing on one foot. His response: "Love your fellow man as yourself." It's the predecessor to the Golden Rule, and we start each day by saying it.

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