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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

The Palestinian National Movement Has Reached a Point of Crisis

With Hamas having failed to achieve anything through several weeks of demonstrations and violence, and Mahmoud Abbas reduced to giving rambling anti-Semitic speeches, Palestinian aspirations seem to have hit a brick wall. Elliott Abrams explains:

[Neither] Fatah [nor] Hamas offers Palestinians a practical program for national independence. . . . [The current situation] leaves Palestinians high and dry, with no way forward at all. Whatever the criticism of the “occupation,” Israelis will certainly not abandon the West Bank to chaos or to a possible Hamas takeover. Today the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state is simply too dangerous to Israel and to Jordan to be contemplated. . . . There are only two other options. The first is the “one-state solution,” meaning union with Israel; but that is a nonstarter that Israel will reject no matter who is its prime minister. The other option is some kind of eventual link to Jordan.

In polite diplomatic society, and in Palestinian public discourse, such a link cannot be mentioned. But younger people who visit there, Palestinians have explained to me, can see a society that is half-Palestinian and functions as an independent nation with a working system of law and order. Jordanians travel freely, rarely suffer from terrorism, and [can vote in regular] elections, even if power is ultimately concentrated in the royal palace. The kingdom has close relations with all the Sunni states and the West, and is at peace with Israel.

The fundamental question all this raises is what, in 2018, is the nature and objective of Palestinian nationalism. Is the goal sovereignty at all costs, no matter how long it takes and even if it is increasingly divorced from peace, prosperity, and personal freedom? Is “steadfastness” [in refusing to compromise with Israel] the greatest Palestinian virtue now and forever? These questions cannot be debated in either Gaza or the West Bank. But as Israel celebrates 70 years and the “occupation” is now more than a half-century old, how much longer can they be delayed? . . .

The catastrophic mishandling of Palestinian affairs by generations of leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini (the pro-Nazi mufti of the British Mandate period) to Yasir Arafat and now to Mahmoud Abbas has been the true Palestinian Nakba.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians