A Short History of Kugel

On the holiday of Shavuot, which begins Sunday evening, there is a widespread tradition of eating dairy foods; one such customary dish is a sweet version of noodle kugel made with farmer’s cheese. Joel Haber presents a brief history of kugel:

Of the two main kugel varieties today—noodle and potato—noodle (lokshen in Yiddish) is the older, originating in the 1500s. Earlier kugels were made primarily of bread dough, and potato kugels only hit the scene about 300 years after the noodle version.

It appears that pasta reached Ashkenazi Jews via two distinct routes. Jewish travelers brought noodles from Italy to France and Germany in the 14th century, but the food also reached the Slavic lands of Eastern Europe about 200 years later, brought via Central Asia by the Tatars. Linguistic evidence supports this two-pronged arrival hypothesis; the Western Yiddish word for noodles, frimzel, draws on the same root as Italian vermicelli (from the word meaning “worms” in Latin), while the Eastern Yiddish word, lokshen, derives from the Persian lakhsha, meaning “slippery.”

A similar bridging of cultures can be found in a distinctive Israeli version of noodle kugel. Y’rushalmi (Jerusalemite) kugel mixes thin noodles with caramelized sugar and a healthy dose of black pepper, along with the standard eggs and oil. Why was this the kugel invented in Jerusalem? Caramel was not a common ingredient in Europe, and black pepper was available but expensive. These two ingredients are much more common in the cooking of Jews from Arab lands. Early 19th-century Jerusalem was one of the few places at the time where Jews from all over lived side by side, and sometimes even married each other. An Ashkenazi food with eastern Jewish flavors inside is the perfect embodiment of the ingathering of the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel.

As Haber notes, Rabbi Arele Roth (1894−1947)—a Jerusalem-based ḥasidic leader—once called kugel “the one special food that all Jews eat, one food in the service of one God.” Perhaps an exaggeration, but one grounded in reality.

Read more at My Jewish Learning

More about: Hasidism, Jerusalem, Jewish food, Shavuot

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria