Willaine St. Pierre Sandy: “Food is our identity, tradition and our roots”

April, 2023

As Jews around the world have recently joined families and friends for Passover seders, Indianapolis resident Willaine St. Pierre Sandy has us thinking about the variety of meals that are being served this Passover.

The scattering of the Jews around the world over thousands of years to nearly every continent, has meant that Jewish culinary traditions have evolved and been adapted to many different cultures and settings, and Jewish food is essentially the local cuisine adapted to conform to the Jewish dietary rules. Edot Midwest mini grant recipient Willaine believes the diversity of Jewish food traditions is wonderful and should be better-known. 

Countries such as Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica once had sizable, thriving Jewish communities, and although few local Jews remain in the Caribbean, there are still small Jewish communities in those countries as well as a large diaspora of Jews of Caribbean descent who live in the US. 

Investigating the history and cross-cultural evolutions of foods considered ‘Jewish food’ fascinates Willaine, who identifies as part of the Caribbean Jewish Diaspora. “Food is our identity, tradition and our roots and it is important to recognize the full varieties of Jewish foods beyond the Ashkenazi and Sephardic binary. My family has Sephardic roots, but we are also Haitian-Jewish.” Willaine observes: “ A lot of people don’t know, for instance, that Haiti, where my family is from, once had a vibrant Jewish community and that our food traditions continue as a part of our Jewish life here.” 

Willaine will host a dinner and recipe-sharing event for her community on June 25 at Etz Chaim Sephardic Synagogue in Indianapolis, in collaboration with her local Jewish Community Relations Council. There, she will present her documentation of Carribean fusions of Jewish foods as a way of educating her Indianapolis Jewish community about Caribbean food traditions. Willaine shares: “Some of the food served at this dinner wouldn’t be what many consider traditional, but it will still be Jewish!” 

Edot Midwest Executive Director Shahanna Mckinney-Baldon believes that supporting programming like Willaine’s culinary exploration of cross-cultural Jewish foods is a part of Edot’s responsibility. “Jewish food isn’t just one ‘cuisine.’ It has evolved as Jewish people move around the world, and it keeps evolving.” 

The Edot mini grant awarded by Edot for this program will support Willaine’s leadership in her own community, and investing in the leadership of Jews of Color in our region is Edot’s ‘North Star,’” explains Shahanna. “We are honored to be a part of what Willaine is building in Indy, and we are excited to continue to support this type of grassroots changemaking work across our Edot network through our mini grants program.”

For information on Edot mini grants, see