Kerry Brodie, Founder and Executive Director of Emma's Torch
Empowering Refugees through Culinary Education
Tonight marks the beginning of Passover where we celebrate freedom from slavery in Egypt. Passover reminds us how we were once strangers and now have the responsibility to support those who are new to our country. As we are instructed to open our doors for Elijah and to welcome in the stranger, we are featuring an organization that empowers refugees through culinary education.
Righteous Crowd Team Member Amy Benarroch proudly serves on the board of Emma's Torch.
Read our interview below with Founder and Executive Director Kerry Brodie.
Why did you decide to start Emma’s Torch?
Cooking informs my earliest childhood memories. Some years ago, while volunteering and teaching cooking at a homeless shelter, I was struck by the transformative power that cooking has to effect social justice. I began to imagine just how to use the universality of cooking to create lasting societal change. With that as a starting point, I founded Emma’s Torch to empower refugees through culinary training.
How would you connect Emma’s Torch to a Jewish value?
The concept of treating “the stranger” with dignity because you, too, “were strangers in a foreign land” is perhaps THE value underpinning all of Jewish thought. It is mentioned no less than 36 times in the Torah. The Pesach Seder, in particular, asks us to remember this and to act accordingly. Moreover, our Jewish – and American – values teach us that we ourselves are strengthened when we welcome and strengthen the stranger. So in a very fundamental way Emma’s Torch is a “selfish” social enterprise: Yes, we help “them”, but in doing so we make “us” more inclusive and stronger.
Who has inspired you in the work that you are doing?
Emma Lazarus, our namesake whose famous poem adorns the base of the Statue of Liberty, inspires our team. She provides the nation with a vision of what we could be, and challenged us to fight for it. Her words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, written 150 years ago, are still essential to the American experience and aspiration. They continue to motivate the entire team and Board at Emma’s Torch; this is certainly not a one-person job.
What’s a story about your organization that is meaningful to you?
Each month our graduating students host a dinner, presenting food from their own cultures and backgrounds. Each graduation event is inspiring and exciting. And once they leave the Emma’s Torch “nest”, the real transformation commences. It was especially meaningful recently to go for a meal in a beautiful nearby restaurant – and to see the way “our” chef’s face lit up when we showed up to eat!
What has surprised you about working with your organization?
I am constantly surprised by the outpouring of support from so many different people, as well as by the growth and development of our students. In this recipe, an ounce of input plus an ounce of dedication results in a transformation of the student, our community and the repair of at least a piece of the world.
What's the best part of your job and why?
Watching the "light bulb" moment as a student masters a new skill or finds out a new way of understanding their role here is especially exciting. I just love seeing these new Americans prepare and bring us their New American cuisine!
What are some non-monetary ways for others to get involved in your organization or cause?
Let all who are hungry come and eat – please make a dinner reservation at the Emma’s Torch restaurant ASAP! We also do private events and catering. For more volunteer opportunities, please sign up for our newsletter to learn about ways to get involved. Of course, we are a social enterprise and so depend heavily on monetary contributions, so any leads to individual or foundation grants would have a terrific impact. We thrive on creativity, so whenever a volunteer or community member comes up with a new idea we are eager to listen!