How Picking Mushrooms in New England Became a Jewish Tradition

Residents of Cape Cod, Massachusetts and its surroundings have come to know the large numbers of mushroom foragers who arrive every year between late September and early November as “Russians.” In fact they are almost all Soviet-born Jews and their immediate descendants, now living throughout the northeastern U.S. Although they will cook the mushrooms in traditional dishes, or preserve them—through various methods—for later use, much of the appeal comes from the hunt itself. The veteran mushroom picker and writer Maxim Shrayer describes the annual ritual, and speculates as to how Jews came to adopt it:

Was mushroom hunting a Jewish tradition in the Slavic lands? I doubt it. For some strange reason, I can’t think of a 19th- or early-20th-century Jewish literary work where mushroom foraging or eating is described. There are, of course, plenty of such scenes in Polish or Russian literature—think of Anna Karenina and the episode in which Levin’s half-brother Koznyshev and [Kitty’s female friend] Varenka go mushroom foraging, and Koznyshev fails to propose. There also doesn’t seem much of a mushroom trail in Jewish cuisine, save for an occasional recipe for a mushroom kugel or else for buckwheat kasha or pearl barley with onion-fried mushrooms. Given the cult status of mushrooms in Polish or Russian cuisine, and also considering how many Slavic dishes the Ashkenazi Jews have made their own, it’s curious that mushrooms have such a marginal status in East European Jewish cooking. . . .

[T]he three grandparents I got to know (and also some of their siblings I’ve met) never shared childhood memories of foraging mushrooms in the former Pale. I don’t believe they had any. My father’s uncle Munia Sharir, who left the ancestral Kamenets-Podolsk [in modern-day Ukraine] in 1924 to become a ḥaluts, left a memoir in both Hebrew and Russian. In the chapters devoted to his Podolian youth, Uncle Munia didn’t touch on mushroom-picking. . . .

I suspect that for Jews of my grandparents’ generation, mushroom-picking was a habit acquired in the 1920s and 30s, part of a complex of social activities that came after moving into the mainstream. For many Jews of the former Pale of Settlement, developing a love for mushroom-picking must have been simultaneously a form of Russianization and Sovietization. At least, this is my tentative explanation for the rise of mushroom-picking among Jews during the Soviet period. My late maternal grandmother, Anna Studnits, who came to America with our whole family in 1987 and lived to be ninety-five, enjoyed collecting and cooking mushrooms. Yet I always felt that with her it was not a childhood love, as it had been for me since as long as remember. . . .

[Thus it seems that], as a mainstream Soviet phenomenon, mushroom picking reached the American shores with the rest of the Jewish immigrant baggage. More than a loving tribute to one’s Soviet youth, mushrooming in America is becoming a Jewish tradition because much of what we brought with us is now being added to Jewish American culture. I admit that there is something of a contradiction here, but I also think there’s some truth to what I’m saying. To put it most bluntly, while in today’s American mainstream Soviet Jews may be thought of as “Russian,” mushroom-picking in America may very well be considered a Jewish family activity.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewry, Food, Jewish World, Leo Tolstoy, Soviet Jewry, Tradition

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict