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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

 

Getting It Right in Afghanistan

Aug. 23 2017

While praising the president’s announcement Monday night that the U.S. will be sending 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio express their “doubt [that] this will be enough to win the war.” They also warn against the dangers of a complete or partial American withdrawal and offer some strategic recommendations:

Al-Qaeda is still a significant problem in South Asia—a potentially big one. President Obama frequently claimed that al-Qaeda was “decimated” and a “shadow of its former self” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That wasn’t true. The Obama administration’s counterterrorism campaign dealt significant blows to al-Qaeda’s leadership, disrupting the organization’s chain of command and interrupting its communications. But al-Qaeda took measures to outlast America’s drones and other tactics. The group survived the death of Osama bin Laden and, in many ways, grew. . . .

Al-Qaeda continues to fight under the Taliban’s banner as well. Its newest branch, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is deeply embedded in the Taliban-led insurgency. . . . There’s no question that Islamic State remains a serious problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it still doesn’t threaten the Afghan government to the same degree that the Taliban/al-Qaeda axis does. . . .

Iran remains a problem, too. The Iranian government has supported the Taliban’s insurgency since 2001. Although this assistance is not as pronounced as Pakistan’s, it is meaningful. The U.S. government has also repeatedly noted that Iran hosts al-Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline,” which moves fighters, funds, and communications to and from South Asia. Any successful strategy for turning the Afghan war around will have to deal with the Iranian government’s nefarious role. The Russians are [also] on the opposite side of the Afghan war.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Iran, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy