4 August 2021
Soulkitchen: a peek inside the kitchens of UM employees

Food is family

What she eats matters less to her than who her tablemates are. Ronit Shiri-Sverdlov, professor of Inflammation and Metabolic Health , is happiest when eating at home with her family. That’s how she felt back in Tel Aviv, and it hasn’t changed now she lives in Maastricht. The chef is whoever feels like cooking, the food is whatever they happen to have on hand. Usually something simple, unless it’s a holiday, when they pull out all the stops. “Jewish tradition means a lot to me. The thought that during Passover and other holidays my family is sitting around the table in Israel just as we are here is exciting for me.”

ronit shiri-sverdlov

Ronit Shiri-Sverdlov with husband and her two youngest children

She doesn’t really have a favourite dish. “Anything that’s fresh. I have two girls and two boys. The boys in particular love to cook, so they’ve been helping out in the kitchen since they were young. We have fun with it, we don’t plan anything, we just cook what we feel like and with whatever’s available. We like to cook, but we don’t love cleaning,” she adds with a laugh. “So we ofthen play a game after dinner and the winner doesn’t have to clean. If we can choose between eating out or staying in, we all choose staying in. Not so much for the food, but for the atmosphere. At home things are freer and more relaxed. Eating out feels a bit like you always have to sit up straight.”

Family values

Shiri-Sverdlov grew up with two older sisters, a brother and many cousins. “My parents both grew up in big families. When my mother gave birth to my oldest sister, her mother—my grandmother—had twins around the same time. We’re a big, close-knit family.” Reminiscing makes her emotional; given the corona situation, she has not been able to visit her family for over a year. “I really miss them. I talk to my parents every day, which for me is essential. I was raised to see family as the most important thing, and that’s how I raised my children too. I’d do anything for my family, not just for my parents, brother or sisters, but for any one of them. Differences of opinion on religion or politics are irrelevant. Our family bond runs much deeper than that.”

 

I was raised to see family as the most important thing, and that’s how I raised my children too.
ronit shiri-sverdlov

She misses other things from Israel, too: the sea, the language, the culture. “It’s the little things. I don’t have to explain anything there, everybody knows how to pronounce my name. People interact more naturally, more emotionally. Whenever I’m there, I feel like a Dutch tourist for the first few days, but after that I’m like a fish in water again. I dream of returning, but I’ve learned not to plan, so we’ll see. For the first four years after moving to the Netherlands I was convinced I’d go back soon. Over the years I’ve become more relaxed about it and I enjoy living here too.”

Mini Israel in Maastricht

Tel Aviv is, she says, an open, vibrant and youthful city. “For me it was the centre of the world, it’s alive and happening 24 hours a day. Gronsveld [the village she first moved to] was an adjustment,” she adds—quite the understatement. She arrived with her husband and two eldest children in 2002; her youngest two were born here. In 2006 the family moved to Maastricht. The eldest now lives in Israel and the second is studying in Amsterdam. At home they speak Hebrew; she is keen to pass on Jewish traditions and values.

“Our house is a kind of mini Israel, not only when it comes to food, but also culture. During Passover there’s a ritual feast where we sing together and read the story of the exodus from Egypt. There are all kinds of rituals, we bless certain foods and drink four glasses of wine over the course of the evening. Because they couldn’t bake bread during the exodus, flour products are prohibited. Passover lasts a week in Israel. It’s an important celebration; our children will come home for it, just as I used to. The ceremony has been performed in the same way for thousands of years, handed down from generation to generation all over the world. I don’t see it as a religious thing. I didn’t have a particularly religious upbringing, but it’s a direct connection to my heart, to my roots, to my family in Israel. This way I hope to raise my children’s awareness of where they come from. Only then can they know which direction they want to go in the future.”

By: Annelotte Huiskes (text), Philip Driessen (photography)