Ziporah Rothkopf is a proud Korean-American Jew living in Israel. She is passionate about cooking and bringing people together at her Old City restaurant Seoul House.
For Rothkopf, food is not just about nourishing the body — it’s also about nourishing the soul. In her own words: “Food is a big deal, you know? Big deal. What is going into your kishkes really? Food is so much more than just sustenance.”
She recalled a particular moment when a man started crying after eating at her restaurant.
“That guy started crying and thanking me, [saying] how he loves Korean food and you made it kosher, and blessing me like crazy, I don’t even know, guy,” she remembered fondly. “It’s moments like those that give you some real strength.”
Her journey to becoming a successful kosher chef was not without its challenges. Despite facing many obstacles along the way, she remained steadfast in her belief that her food and faith could make a difference.
And her tireless efforts have paid off. OK Kosher, one of the world’s largest kashrut supervision agencies, has kosher-certified her gochugaru (Korean pepper powder) and five other essential Korean foods.
Before receiving certification, Ziporah used to bring back hundreds of locally grown chili peppers each year from South Korea, grinding them into powder before packing them into her luggage bound for Israel.
Ziporah opened Seoul House, her Korean café near her home in Jerusalem’s Old City, in 2014. Her journey from Seoul, where she was born as Kim Bongja, to Jerusalem was long and winding. Raised in an intellectual, elite Buddhist family in Seoul, Rothkopf fled to the United States in her early 20s after leaving an unfaithful husband.
Ziporah acknowledges that life was not always easy, but she believes that Judaism is a powerful engine that can help bring out a person’s full potential.
“Let’s say there’s a gold stone. How do you extract the gold? Pour it into a major fire and separate them,” she explained.
“It’s the same way we all go through tough times, painful times, sometimes betrayal. The way that I went through my divorce, total betrayal, lost everything, you hit the bottom. And then you know you’re gonna go up. That’s how the life cycle is, right? Hit the bottom, go up, go up, the down.”
For Ziporah, Judaism is not just a religion, but a way of life that involves constantly refining oneself.
“It’s not just this. You have to keep things right … It’s very much involved in refining yourself, so to speak. I love it. It makes me who I am,” she said.
Originally Published Feb 2, 2023 04:16PM EST