Name: Dr. Beth Ricanati
Profession: Women's Health & Wellness Physician; Author
How did you come to do what you do?
As a busy physician, mother, wife, and daughter, I had been overwhelmed. Taking care of everyone else, I had somehow forgotten to take care of myself. This is probably starting to sound familiar to some of you. One Rosh Hashanah, over a decade ago, my friend from a mommy group suggested that I make challah for the holidays. “To me, it was such an absurd suggestion. How was making a challah going to help?” But it did help - it changed my life, maybe even saved it. For the first time in a very long time, while kneading bread, I stopped.
And then I made it again the next week and the next. Soon I found I was rearranging my life to make challah, often with other women. I now joke that the 11th commandment is “thou shall always have a frozen challah in the freezer” so on those rare Fridays when I can't make challah, we still have some on hand.
In writing a book, I wanted to share with others all that I had learned about how I had found solace - it’s the physician in me, always trying to train and heal. It’s so important to a have a ritual to help manage stress. 75% of chronic disease is lifestyle driven - and with small modifications we can change that. Making challah is SIX ingredients in a bowl - everyone can do that!
What is your favorite Jewish holiday or tradition?
I love hosting the Seder, bringing together disparate people, it’s so much fun for me.
It’s different now that our kids are older but we have a bowl of chocolate chips and David, my husband, likes to ask questions to get the kids (and adults) involved. When someone answers a question correctly they get a chocolate chip.
What is your favorite food that you associate with Judaism?
I’d have to say the challah is most likely my favorite. I’m all about food...I mark all the Jewish holidays by the food. And I only really have positive associations with food, not negative.
Earliest memory of being Jewish?
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and went mainly to private schools. Most kids weren’t Jewish so I was one of the only kids not there on the jewish holidays. We had dual identities, really, because assimilation and fitting in was so important, but, then, on the Jewish holidays it was felt how we were, in fact, different.
How do you incorporate Judaism into your daily life?
Making challah has spilled into the week. I had some trial and error with baking the perfect challah and found the recipe worked better if I didn't add all of the flour at once - after all, it's always easier to add something than it is to take away.
I also learned about the Modeh Ani. I try to say it every morning, not always successfully, but I try. It’s grounding - the acknowledgement and gratitude - I am here for another day.
What are you most excited about in the coming months?
Braided has been so well received by so many: it's received some amazing book awards and accolades, and not simply as a Jewish book! I never dreamed we’d be here so I don’t know where we are going, but it’s going to be somewhere cool!
Beth built her medical career around bringing wellness into everyday life, especially for busy women juggling work, children, and their relationships. She got her undergraduate degree in art history at the University of Pennsylvania, and her medical degree from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. She trained at Columbia Presbyterian in New York City, worked at Columbia’s Center for Women’s Health, and at the Women’s Health Center at the Cleveland Clinic.
A fortuitous move to Santa Monica, CA allowed Beth to shift her focus from seeing patients to writing, a transformation that has allowed her to reach a broader audience of women on the issues of health and wellness. Beth now sees patients at the Venice Family Clinic.
Beth's first book, Braided, was published in 2018.
Braided has been named a finalist for a National Jewish Book Award and for a Foreword INDIE award; it has also been named a winner for a Wilbur Award.