Thank you all so much for joining us this evening.
Over the last year I have gotten to know a very special person. No, I am not talking about my fabulous husband (thanks Tomer!) or our new neighbors in New York, but rather my new gal pal, Ms. Emma Lazarus.
For those you who have not met Emma, we are experiencing her legacy tonight, in this very room.
Emma Lazarus lived in a world filled with unrest and strife. Born into a wealthy Jewish family in the 1800s, she could have easily let her gender or position in society stop her from engaging in social justice. Instead, she became one of the United States’ most treasured poets and advocates. She was known not only for her words, but also for her tenacity, ferocity, and let’s just say “chutzpah.”
Emma wrote, “I am never going to write for the sake of writing.” And she did not. She wrote to galvanize others to action, she wrote to give a voice to the underserved, and she wrote to define in stone what it means to be an American.
Most school children learn only one line of Emma’s Lazarus’s most famous poem “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” But, that is not the actual point of the poem. The poem is not about those fleeing to our shores, it is not about refugees, it is about America. It is redefining what it means to be American. Emma envisioned a world where the defining attribute of America was our willingness and ability to welcome in the stranger.
To paraphrase another poet, Lin-Manuel Miranda, America is our great unfinished symphony. We must continue our fight to finish it, each laying another note, another harmony. We are the greatest of unfinished works, and we are made stronger when we engage others in the act of creation.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in our kitchens. America is not just a great melting pot. We are the most vivid and diverse buffet. Our cuisine is not defined, and spans centuries of diverse migratory traditions.
That is what drives the Emma’s Torch team. We are not all poets like Emma, but we can all follow her example and recognize the humanity in each other. Cooking is one of the most defining characteristics of being human, and we use that fact to build bridges and to empower the newest members of our community to contribute.
It is for that reason that I am so proud to introduce you all to our very first cohort of students.
Elio, Cisse, and Vallerie. Each of these remarkable people worked so hard in classes this month, and this evening. I am so inspired by each of you. I am honored to present you with these certificates, and to congratulate you on your hard work, and tenacity. But tonight is not the end of our time together. You might see Vallerie working as a chef in one of the best restaurants in New York City in the coming weeks. Elio and Cisse will be interviewing with an exciting new food start up in the new year, which is one I am sure you will hear more about.
I hope everyone here will have a chance to chat with our three fabulous chefs. I also want to thank a number of people, without whom tonight would not have been possible. Thank you to Neil from the Lawyers Alliance and our bookkeeper Michael for your endless guidance and explanations. To Will and our friends at FedCap, thank you for welcoming us into your home. Thank you to Shana, Crystal, and Mandy, our fearless trio who made this event truly happen. To Annie and Charlotte who have taken time as students to help us each and every day. To Maria, Cheryl, Gladys, and all our refugee resettlement partners for helping us get off the ground. To Cheryl at PieShell for your partnership. To Jars by Dani, Jessie’s Nutty Cups, VOS wines, and the fabulous Soom Sisters for your delicious donations. I highly recommend buying their wonderful products! To the wonderful volunteers with us here tonight. And of course, to the fabulous board of Emma’s Torch, in particular my better half, Francesca. To my incredible sous chef and champion Tomer, as well as my mom and grandma who taught me more than I could ever hope to know.
And finally thank you to each of you. It is truly inspiring to see a room filled with family, friends, and soon to be friends! Your support and presence this evening means the world to me. Whether it is through your financial contributions, your time, or your willingness to spread the word about our work, I look forward to continue working with each of you as together we change more lives in the months and years ahead.