a code of "thou-shalt-nots," traditional
Jewish cuisine has never been and need
never be boring, given an imaginative
and resourceful chef (See "A Long
Island Jewish Wedding Menu").
For pious Jews, eating and drinking
become truly religious acts. Each meal
begins with a benediction of thanks
and ends with the saying of grace. Each
meal represents a partaking in God's
For less religious Jews, even the least
religious Jews, bonds with Jewish food
seem to linger even when all else Jewish
fades: i.e., the so-called "bagel and lox
Jew." (Ironically, lax, the Swedish name
for smoked salmon, has become the
"lox" of that supposedly quintessential
American-Jewish combo, bagels and
lox. The expensive delicacy was
unknown among Eastern European
Jewish literature reflects the impor-
tance of food in Jewish life, sometimes
sentimentally, sometimes ironically,
sometimes in full seriousness.
Harry Golden understood that to a
Jew, food was more than fuel. He wrote
often of Jews and food, as in his ac-
count of his childhood in the early
decades of this century.
Ess, Ess, mein kindt is not only an
expression of the love of a mother
for her child. Along the Lower East
Side of New York, it was a rallying
cry of survival.
Food, of course, is literally —
survival. Among the immigrant
Jews in the tenement districts of
New York, Philadelphia and
Chicago, there was somehow always
more than enough food. The
poorest managed to eat .. .
All of us were sometimes cold,
sometimes ragged, sometimes over-
worked, but not hungry.
The poverty and the pain of
childhood are all forgotten, as they
should be, but the joys remain in
our memory . . . your mother
holding out a thick piece of rye
bread covered with chicken fat when
you came in from play .. .
Actually the offering of food by
the mother of the household was
the offering of her love. When her
food was not eaten it was as if her
love was rejected. Guests who may
have just left their own dinner table
valiantly ate everything the hostess
offered. It would have been an insult
to do otherwise.
This ess, ess mein kindt tradition
created its own culture; a hefty fami-
ly was a healthy family .. .
But not for long.
Special to The Jewish News
am a true Jewish food junkie,
unable to resist the whiff of a knish
as it travels by on a waiter's tray at
a wedding, incapable of getting
through a Sunday without my cream
cheese and nova on a pumpernickel
Examining my passion for Jewish food
is like examining my commitment to
breathing: why bother analyzing one of
life's essentials? But in my more objec-
tive moments, I've realized that my love
of Jewish food goes beyond the im-
mediate pleasures of taste, smell and
texture. It is inextricably woven
together with other pleasures: a feeling
of being loved and cared for, a sense of
family togetherness, a feeling of Jewish
tradition and history.
When my mother put a bowl of
chicken matzah ball soup in front of me
as a child, I could feel her love as sure-
ly as 1 felt the steam from the soup ris-
ing gently into my face. Even now,
chicken soup really does always make
me feel better.
After years of family gatherings at
Passover seders, Rosh Hashonah lunches
and Yom Kippur break-fasts, I associate
Jewish food with family togetherness.
The communal feeling generated ex-
tends beyond the family get-togethers
themselves: even if I'm eating a bagel
myself or heating up a knish (or two) in
my own oven, somehow I'm not alone.
Munching on hamantashen always
takes me back to musty Hebrew school
classrooms where I learned about
Mordecai and Esther and Haman's
three-cornered hat. I feel virtuous eating
hamantashen: I'm on the side of God,
justice and noisy whirring graggers.
And at a Seder, helping myself to mat-
zah stuffing, I think of all the other
Seders going on, and the ones I have
been to before, and the Seders before
my own life began, and the original
flight from Egypt.
Jewish food gives me an immediate
sense of "connection" — to love, to
family, to Jewish tradition and history. I
also feel linked to the future. I'm sure
Jewish children will learn about latkes
in Hebrew school, then go home and
eat them; Jewish families will sit down
together to raisin challah and roast
chicken; and Jewish mothers (or fathers)
will teach their daughters (or sons) to
make chicken soup.
My love affair with Jewish food is no
casual romance, no transitory appetite.
Each delicious experience is a celebra-
tion of Jewish life and values.