New York Jewish Travel Guide sat down (virtually) with Jodi Samuels to ask a few questions about her new book, “Chutzpah, Wisdom, and Wine: Journey of an Unstoppable Woman”. The following interview is edited for clarity and length.
NYJTG: As a busy mom-entrepreneur “Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine” is a highly inspirational and engaging true-life account and a recipe for women who are balancing family and career. Can you share some examples of how you are balancing all of these tasks?
Jodi Samuels: I live by the idea that success is not one dimensional. In order to truly be successful in life, you have to balance family, community, and work. I also don’t sleep a lot. I never go to sleep without writing the next day’s to-do list. I also work hard and play hard. My husband and I go out every night without fail.
NYJTG: You and your husband have devoted considerable time and energy to hosting Shabbat dinners to thousands of Jews from all over the world over the years. Can you share with us some of the great stories from these Shabbat events such as couples meeting, new business connections being formed, etc.?
Jodi Samuels: We have had 128 couples marry from our events and many have been from our Shabbat dinners. I often joke the best matches are the best friends who meet at our Shabbat table and become roommates.
A cute story is we hosted a young lady from Australia before she was married in our home for a meal. Fast forward many years later we had moved to Jerusalem and we were house hunting. She recognized us from NY. She was religious at this point and often hosted many guests herself. There was a bidding war but she told her husband that we would use the place for good and they sold to us. The agent who we used was also a frequent guest when she lived in NY.
We host many groups from around the world including politicians, campus leaders, and business people. The goal is to help promote Israel in a positive light. We once hosted a group of Palestinians who had immigrated to Canada. They were on a group mission and wary about joining Israelis for a meal. By the end, there were so many tears and messages of goodwill. The women admitted they had never seen Israelis except for soldiers before and we had changed their whole perception of Israelis.
We host many Chinese business missions. They are interested in understanding how Jewish values and Torah impact our success worldwide. I joke that it takes two South Africans living in Jerusalem to impact Israel’s foreign investment over a Shabbat meal.
NYJTG? Learning from your book, you are a strong advocate for Children with Down’s Syndrome and this topic was a major portion of your memoir. Can you shed some light on why and what had prompted you to take this stand?
Jodi Samuels: I never expected that living in Manhattan in 2010 in one the wealthiest Jewish communities in the world that my daughter would be denied the right to a spot in a 2-year-old program in a local Jewish Day School based on her diagnoses. I soon realized we were not the only people and I needed to take a stand for what was right. Without awareness and education, you cannot make a change.
NYJTG: You and your family are world travelers, originally from South Africa, and have shared experiences with thousands of people from all over the world through all the Shabbat dinners and events. Can you highlight the challenges of your travel for keeping kosher and observing the Shabbat?
Jodi Samuels: There are so many obstacles to traveling kosher. We travel to India with 5 bags – 2 of clothes and 3 of food. Cuba was exceptionally hard as we struggled in certain places to get eggs and fresh produce. I have become an expert in cooking meals in a toasted sandwich machine.
We once arrived at a Lodge in a National Park. All the concessions were already closed for the season and the BBQ’s put away. We were starving and without the basics like bread and cereal to fill us. We had meat in a cooler box from NY but cooking in the room was forbidden excluding the option to use the George Forman we shlepped along.
I approached the manager and used all my Jewish guilt until he unhappily agreed to set up my husband outback with an extension cord to use the grill. Fire code required distance, it was dark and Yellow Stone is known for the bears that lurk especially at night. Well, it was hungry bears or hungry Samuels and we are here to tell the tale.
We also have set up our pop- up succah in the most random places. Last year it was in a game park in Africa on the terrace of our cabin. Sharing the succah with the monkeys was definitely a new experience!
NYJTG: Thank you, Jodi, for your time and all the information you shared with us. I really appreciated it, as will our readers.