Social Eating Experience
Welcome to 2008. As we greet the new "yor," let's consider the importance
of food in the Jewish home. Let's all sit down at "der estsimer" (dining
room) table or at the new Second Avenue Deli, located near Third Avenue in New
York City. It's time to enjoy matzoh ball soup, brisket, "tsimes,"
chopped liver, chicken fricassee, kasha, 2 cents plain, and a "glezel
tay" (a glass of hot tea served in a yahrtzeit glass and sucked
through a sugar cube held between the teeth).
Would you believe that there was a character in "Crime and Punishment" by
Dostoevsky who was said to be "sucking tea...through a sugar"?
Let's follow some "home" cooking recipes from "The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook"
by Joanne Caras: "Bubbe Ginendel's gefilte fish" or cabbage, meat and chicken
one-pot meals, beet, beef and lentil soups and treats like lemon pudding. Be
sure to read the stories that accompany the recipes, collected from Holocaust
survivors around "di velt."
Remember Barry Levinson's, Avalon? We saw the break-up of the family unit. The
family disintegrates when the members move to the suburbs and "di televisye"
replaces conversation at holiday gatherings. Eva, Sam's wife, can't understand
why the new generation wants to live apart from its "tate-mame" and eat
in front of a TV set. We chuckle lovingly as Lou Jacobi's Uncle Gabriel becomes
paranoid that someone will "cut the toiky" without him.
In the late Nathan Ausubel's 1951 book, "A Treasure of Jewish Humor," we read
about an eminent neurologist who remarked that regardless of whether Synagogue
Judaism will survive the corrosions of time and change, of one thing he was
certain--that Culinary Judaism would endure. In fact, it would be the catalyst
to bind together all Jews in an indestructible brotherhood. Yes, by being
passionate eaters of Jewish cooking they were proving their loyalty to their
Jewish identity. "A slice of hot noodle pudding, as it were, should make all in
I vividly remember Nathan Ausubel's humorous words, "For a pastrami sandwich
with a large dill pickle and coleslaw on the side, washed down by hot tea with
lemon drunk from a glass and lump sugar in the mouth, they'll move even to
Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville." (The author's grandparents lived on East 98th St.
and Rutland Road in Brooklyn and shopped on Pitkin Avenue.)
Ausubel goes on to say, "It has been observed by doctors that Jews, largely
those belonging to the well-fed classes, suffer disproportionately to other
groups from gastrointestinal disorders. They are tireless consumers of hot water
before breakfast, of seltzer water, Epson salts, milk of magnesia, citrate of
magnesia, bicarbonate of soda, Ex-Lax, Tums, Pluto Water, and what not."
Yetta Emmes ("Drek! The Real Yiddish Your Bubbe Never Taught You") says
that "Jews don't just eat. They fress!...To fress is to eat with relish
Speaking of food, Henny Youngman once performed at a Bar Mitzvah on Long Island,
and headed to the buffet. On the table was a life-size sculpture of the Bar
Mitzvah boy rendered in ice. As he ladled fruit salad on his plate, a woman
behind him commented on the sculpture.
"It's beautiful," said the first lady."
"It's a perfect likeness," agreed the second woman.
"Who did it? Epstein?"
"Don't be silly. Epstein only works in chopped liver!"
Youngman, the tummler, frequently discussed food in his routines:
"It's just murderous what's going on with people today. One fellow comes up to
me on the street in New York City and says he hasn't eaten in 3 days. I say,
Another guy comes up and says he hasn't eaten in a week. I say, "DON'T WORRY, it
tastes the same."
In a letter to the Editor of The New York Times, Robert DiFerdinando of South
Burlington, VT, wrote about the food experience. He said, "Eat with friends.
Don't eat while walking, driving, snowboarding or anything else! Talk to your
friends while you eat. Listen to the stories of their lives. If nothing more,
the connections you make will be at least as satisfying to your well-being as
the food you are eating. This positive social eating experience will keep us
satisfied. No need to get happy with mountains of food. Let's eat the food we
love, with the people we love."
I'll conclude by sharing my favorite fish story, taken from the book, "Mame
Loshn - The Making of Yiddish" by John Geipel.
(Slight changes have been made to make it more appropriate for 2008).
A gentile once asked a Jew, "How come you Jews are so smart?"
The Jew replied, "Smart, Eh? There are clever Gentiles as well."
The Gentile replied, "Quite true, but I've never seen a Jew who wasn't smart.
I'd like to know why the Jews are so clever."
The Jew says to him, "I'll tell you the secret. We Jews have discovered one fish
among all fish which is by nature exceptionally smart. We eat that fish and
acquire wisdom from it."
The Gentile began to ask the Jew to tell him what kind of fish it was. He asked,
"Can I buy it in Winn Dixie, Publix, or SuperSol? Waldbaums?"
The Jew would hear nothing of it.
Finally, the Jew said, "You must understand that I can't reveal such a secret to
you, otherwise you'll tell other Gentiles, and that's be an end to our Jewish
wisdom. But I'll do one thing for you. I'll give YOU a piece of that fish so
that you'll become wise, too. I can't do it for free. It'll cost you $18--chai.'
The Gentile scratched the back of his neck a bit, but he decided it was worth
paying $18 to be as clever as a Jew.
Next day, he arrived at the appointed time and sat down at the table where the
Jew set a portion of gefilte fish before him.
The Gentile paid his money and ate with gusto. When he finished, the Jew asked
him how he liked the fish. "That piece of fish was certainly good," replied the
Gentile, "but I reckon $18 is a bit steep for such a little helping."
"AHA," cried the Jew, "You see--it's working already!"
Marjorie Wolfe is the author of a new book titled, "Yiddish for Dog & Cat
Marjorie Wolfe (winter address)
101 Lake Pine Circle, C1
Greenacres, FL 33463
$13 (plus $3.50 postage/handling, USA) or call, 561-967-4457