The Jewish Week has named Kerry Brodie one of this year's 36 Under 36 for being a “bridge builder,” a “changemaker reaching across divides and edging the Jewish community forward.” Read more here.
Altruism Through Pots and Pans
BY STEVE LIPMAN
All it took was one question to change Brodie’s life.
Working two years ago as press secretary for The Human Rights Campaign, the prominent DC-based LGBT civil rights organization, she read an article about the problems that refugees from Iraq and west Africa were facing in this country. She complained to her husband, Tomer Yavetz.
“What are you waiting for?” he asked her. In other words, why don’t you do something?
She quit her job, enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education here, and founded Emma’s Torch, a nonprofit that teaches food preparation skills, English-language competency and resume/interview skills to refugees and victims of human trafficking.
Her restaurant/training center (first in Red Hook, now in Carroll Gardens) has taught kitchen fundamentals to and found jobs for a dozen men and women. They come from Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and an amalgam of other Middle Eastern and South American countries.
Instruction is in English.
“I grew up with the sense that you create community around the table,” said Brodie, who had a lifelong interest in food but no previous formal training beyond scooping ice cream as a teen.
“Hachnasat Orchim [welcoming guests] is essential to being Jewish. Welcoming the refugee is essential to being American,” she said.
That’s why she named her initiative after Emma Lazarus, the writer and social activist whose poem, “The New Colossus,” welcomes newcomers at the base of the Statue of Liberty. “Emma was a badass Jewish lady,” Brodie said.
She picks students who don’t necessarily have a background in food preparation, but share her “passion for food.”
Brodie, who had worked as director of communications for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, keeps kosher; she doesn’t eat any of the meat dishes prepared in her restaurant’s kitchen.
Had her husband not asked that question two years ago, she said, she’d probably still be working in public policy in the capital.
It was the right question, she said. “I’m very lucky.”
Behind the seams: To earn spending money while studying at Princeton, Brodie worked as a seamstress. She sewed costumes for the school’s theater productions.