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What People Ate in the Shtetl

Aug. 10 2017

For most East European Jews in the early 20th century, dishes like noodle kugel, pickled herring, and stuffed breast of veal —well remembered by their descendants—were foods for special occasions. Paul Glasser explains that most days they had to make do with plainer fare:

According to the memoirs of Hirsh Abramovich, a Yiddish writer in prewar Vilna, the Jews in Lithuania were probably the poorest segment of the [Russian] Jewish population, particularly in rural areas. . . . Abramovich writes: “Villagers referred to city dwellers as ‘those Vilna noshers’ since they could eat ‘luxuries’ like fish, chicken, cheese, butter, and even bread not only on Shabbos, but even on weekdays.” . . .

If a family didn’t have food during the week, they had to do without; but if they didn’t have food for the Sabbath, other Jews had no choice but to help them out. In Abramovich’s words: “It was common to see Jews suffering from hunger during the week, but not on Shabbos since it was forbidden to allow a Jewish family to be without food on Shabbos.” Even the poorest were provided with at least challah and fish.

Fruit and vegetables weren’t readily available in the winter, so families ate what they had stored up: onions, cucumbers, cabbage, beets, sorrel soup, and, of course, potatoes. Jews and non-Jews alike in Eastern Europe, as well as in other countries (think of Ireland), stayed alive thanks to potatoes. . . . As the famous children’s song tells us: “Sunday we have potatoes, Monday—potatoes, Tuesday—potatoes, Wednesday and Thursday—potatoes; Shabbos, thank goodness, we have potato kugel, Sunday it’s back to potatoes.”

Potatoes were prepared in numerous ways: cooked, stewed, baked; scraped and unscraped (not peeled, it’s a shame to waste the skin!). They were used to make dishes like brioche and pudding and others with names like “Gypsy,” “bombs,” [and] “futile fish” (potatoes with onions and black fish).

Read more at Forward

More about: East European Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish food, Lithuania, Shtetl

Why Cutting U.S. Funding for Palestinian “Refugees” Is the Right Move

Jan. 22 2018

Last week the Trump administration announced that it is withholding some of America’s annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. To explain why this decision was correct, Elliott Abrams compares UNRWA with the agency run by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees who are not Palestinian:

One of [UNHCR’s] core missions is “ending statelessness.” [By contrast, UNRWA’s] mission appears to be “never ending statelessness.” A phrase such as “ending statelessness” would be anathema and is found nowhere on its website. Since 1950, UNHCR has tried to place refugees in permanent new situations, while since 1950 UNRWA has with its staff of 30,000 “helped” over 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to remain “refugees.” . . . UNRWA has three times as large a staff as UNHCR—but helps far fewer people than the 17 million refugees UNHCR tries to assist. . . .

The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA is not primarily financial. The United States is an enormously generous donor to UNHCR, providing just under 40 percent of its budget. I hope we maintain that level of funding. . . . The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA instead rests on two pillars. The first is that UNRWA’s activities repeatedly give rise to concern that it has too many connections to Hamas and to rejectionist ideology. . . .

But even if those flaws were corrected, this would not solve the second and more fundamental problem with UNRWA—which is that it will perpetuate the Palestinian “refugee” problem forever rather than helping to solve it. . . . [T]hat the sole group of refugees whom the UN keeps enlarging is Palestinian, and that the only way to remedy this under UN definitions would be to eliminate the state of Israel or have 5 million Palestinian “refugees” move there should simply be unacceptable. . . .

Perpetuating and enlarging the Palestinian “refugee” crisis has harmed Israel and it has certainly harmed Palestinians. Keeping their grievances alive may have served anti-Israel political ends, but it has brought peace no closer and it has helped prevent generations of Palestinians from leading normal lives. That archipelago of displaced-persons and refugee camps that once dotted Europe [in the aftermath of World War II] is long gone now, and the descendants of those who tragically lived in those camps now lead productive and fruitful lives in many countries. One can only wish such a fate for Palestinian refugee camps and for Palestinians. More money for UNRWA won’t solve anything.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Refugees, U.S. Foreign policy, UNRWA