Donate

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

The Threats Posed to Israel by a Palestinian State

Oct. 23 2017

To the IDF reserve general Gershon Hacohen, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would, given the current circumstances of the Middle East, create a graver danger for the Jewish state than either Iran or Hizballah. More damaging still, he argues, is the attitude among many Israelis that the two-state solution is a necessity for Israel. He writes:

Since the Oslo process began in the fall of 1993, dramatic changes have occurred in the international arena. . . . For then-Prime Minister Yitzḥak Rabin, Oslo was based on the superpower status of the U.S. . . . At the time, the Arabs were in a state of crisis and aware of their weakness—all the more so after the U.S. vanquished Iraq in the First Gulf War in the winter of 1991. . . . It was that awareness of weakness, along with the PLO leadership’s state of strategic inadequacy, that paved the way for the Oslo process.

[But] over the [intervening] years, the America’s hegemonic power has declined while Russia has returned to play an active and very influential role. . . .

Something essential has changed, too, with regard to expectations in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. At first, in the early days of Oslo, the expectations were of mutual goodwill and reconciliation. Over the years, however, as the cycle of blood has continued, the belief in Palestinian acceptance of Israel in return for Israeli concessions has been transformed in the Israeli discourse into nothing more than the need to separate from the Palestinians—“They’re there, we’re here”—solely on our own behalf.

The more the proponents of separation have honed their efforts to explain to Israeli society that separation is mandated by reality, enabling Israel to preserve its identity as Jewish and democratic, the more the Palestinians’ bargaining power has grown. If a withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state is a clear-cut Israeli interest, if the Israelis must retreat in any case for the sake of their own future, why should the Palestinians give something in return? . . . Hence the risk is increasing that a withdrawal from the West Bank will not only fail to end the conflict but will in fact lead to its intensification.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Oslo Accords, Russia, Two-State Solution