How Picking Mushrooms in New England Became a Jewish Tradition

Nov. 10 2016

Residents of Cape Cod, Massachusetts and its surroundings have come to know the large numbers of mushroom foragers who arrive every year between late September and early November as “Russians.” In fact they are almost all Soviet-born Jews and their immediate descendants, now living throughout the northeastern U.S. Although they will cook the mushrooms in traditional dishes, or preserve them—through various methods—for later use, much of the appeal comes from the hunt itself. The veteran mushroom picker and writer Maxim Shrayer describes the annual ritual, and speculates as to how Jews came to adopt it:

Was mushroom hunting a Jewish tradition in the Slavic lands? I doubt it. For some strange reason, I can’t think of a 19th- or early-20th-century Jewish literary work where mushroom foraging or eating is described. There are, of course, plenty of such scenes in Polish or Russian literature—think of Anna Karenina and the episode in which Levin’s half-brother Koznyshev and [Kitty’s female friend] Varenka go mushroom foraging, and Koznyshev fails to propose. There also doesn’t seem much of a mushroom trail in Jewish cuisine, save for an occasional recipe for a mushroom kugel or else for buckwheat kasha or pearl barley with onion-fried mushrooms. Given the cult status of mushrooms in Polish or Russian cuisine, and also considering how many Slavic dishes the Ashkenazi Jews have made their own, it’s curious that mushrooms have such a marginal status in East European Jewish cooking. . . .

[T]he three grandparents I got to know (and also some of their siblings I’ve met) never shared childhood memories of foraging mushrooms in the former Pale. I don’t believe they had any. My father’s uncle Munia Sharir, who left the ancestral Kamenets-Podolsk [in modern-day Ukraine] in 1924 to become a ḥaluts, left a memoir in both Hebrew and Russian. In the chapters devoted to his Podolian youth, Uncle Munia didn’t touch on mushroom-picking. . . .

I suspect that for Jews of my grandparents’ generation, mushroom-picking was a habit acquired in the 1920s and 30s, part of a complex of social activities that came after moving into the mainstream. For many Jews of the former Pale of Settlement, developing a love for mushroom-picking must have been simultaneously a form of Russianization and Sovietization. At least, this is my tentative explanation for the rise of mushroom-picking among Jews during the Soviet period. My late maternal grandmother, Anna Studnits, who came to America with our whole family in 1987 and lived to be ninety-five, enjoyed collecting and cooking mushrooms. Yet I always felt that with her it was not a childhood love, as it had been for me since as long as remember. . . .

[Thus it seems that], as a mainstream Soviet phenomenon, mushroom picking reached the American shores with the rest of the Jewish immigrant baggage. More than a loving tribute to one’s Soviet youth, mushrooming in America is becoming a Jewish tradition because much of what we brought with us is now being added to Jewish American culture. I admit that there is something of a contradiction here, but I also think there’s some truth to what I’m saying. To put it most bluntly, while in today’s American mainstream Soviet Jews may be thought of as “Russian,” mushroom-picking in America may very well be considered a Jewish family activity.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewry, Food, Jewish World, Leo Tolstoy, Soviet Jewry, Tradition

Hamas Won’t Compromise with the Palestinian Authority, and Gazans Won’t Overthrow Hamas

July 24 2017

Since the terrorist organization Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, much of Israeli strategy toward it has stemmed from the belief that, if sufficient pressure is applied, the territory’s residents will rise up against it. Yaakov Amidror argues this is unlikely to happen, and he also doubts that improved living conditions for ordinary Gazans would deter Hamas from terrorism or war:

The hardships experienced by the Strip’s residents, no matter how terrible, will not drive them to stage a coup to topple Hamas. The organization is entrenched in Gaza and is notorious for its brutality toward any sign of dissidence, and the Palestinians know there is no viable alternative waiting for an opportunity to [take over].

[Therefore], it is time everyone got used to the idea that Hamas is not about to relinquish its dominant position in the Gaza Strip, let alone concede to the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas. . . . [Yet the] assumption is also baseless that if Gaza experiences economic stability and prosperity, Hamas would refrain from provoking hostilities. This misconception is based on the theory that Hamas operates by governmental norms and prioritizes the needs and welfare of its citizens. This logic does not apply to Hamas. . . .

[Hamas’s] priorities are to bolster its military power and cement its iron grip. This is why all the supplies Israel allows into Gaza on a daily basis to facilitate normal life have little chance of reaching the people. Hamas first and foremost takes care of its leaders and makes sure it has what it needs to sustain its terror-tunnel-digging enterprise and its weapon-production efforts. It then sees to the needs of its members, and then—and only then—what little is left is diverted to rehabilitation efforts that benefit the population.

This is why the argument that Israel is responsible for Gaza’s inability to recover from its plight is baseless. Hamas is the one that determines the priorities by which to allocate resources in the enclave, and the more construction materials that enter Gaza, the easier and faster it is for Hamas to restore its military capabilities. Should Israel sacrifice its own security on the altar of Gazans’ living conditions? I don’t think so.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security