Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

B’Teavon! Jewish holiday foods through the millennia

With Hanukkah fast approaching on the heels of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d reshare one of my more popular blogs about food. Specifically, it was about Jewish Hanukkah food history. Part of the reason is, well, food. But that’s only part.

Two years ago, in Jewish history through Hannukah recipes from around the world, I blogged how Jews developed many recipes that emphasized the miracle of oil and reflected the many different countries and regions where we lived: Israel’s sufganiyot has Greek roots, at least linguistically. Moroccan sfenj comes from Maghreb, Sephardic bumuelos, also called burmeuelos, have Greek and Turkish connections. I also recounted gulab jamun from Bene Israel Jews in India, ponchiks from Polish Jews, frittelle di Chanukah from Italian Jews, and how latkes may have actually begun with cheese from Sephardim in Italy before moving to Eastern Europe and adapting potato. (The blog links to recipes too.)

Today, I’ll add two Hungarian delicacies I’ve just learned about: shlishkas, finger-shaped potato dumplings, and kokosh, a poppyseed and chocolate dessert not too far removed from babka. This article about Hanukkah treats worth your time from the St. Louis Jewish Light includes the recipes.

On Thanksgiving, we give thanks. And yes, we eat. We gather with family around the table and we may even  share with each other what we are thankful for. Part of the enjoyment of Thanksgiving is leftovers. With Hanukkah following Thanksgiving this year, it was interesting to read these two articles from My Jewish Learning, each sharing recipes: Mashed Potato, Turkey and Cranberry Knishes with Cranberry Mustard and The Best Use for Leftover Stuffing: Making It Into Latkes.

In a way, how much different is the idea behind these mashups than any of the other, earlier mentioned food traditions? Granted, it isn’t often that the calendar aligns this way, but the idea – that we as a people adapt and change our foods to fit what is available and where we are – is one we have carried throughout the millennia. So why not in America? As I wrote in my Hanukkah food-inspired blog two years ago, “Throughout history, Jews have experienced expulsions or have fled from their home even as far back as 733 BCE. But everywhere we’ve been, we’ve celebrated our holidays, and in every place we have ‘sojourned,’ we have absorbed local culture.”

Partial representation of Jewish Explulsions, covering only from European territories from 1100 to 1600. (Wikipedia).

I think about how we as a people were expelled or left so many places where we were unwanted or persecuted, and how as a result we are spread out around the world, so widely that many Jews cannot even put themselves in the shoes of others who’ve walked different paths. For me, part of the wonder of Israel – and one of the parts I think my husband enjoyed most when we went this past summer – is the food. Because what you have there with Jews from the four corners of the earth is a culinary explosion of cuisines, I think, unlike anywhere else.

The Jewish Food Society does a fantastic job of gathering stories and recipes. I follow them on Facebook and love their website stories that pop up into my feed. But I want to take it in another direction, give the richness of Jewish cuisine context both geographically and chronologically. That is, I foster a dream of one day seeing a website which would feature an interactive map showing the movement of the Jewish people over time – and allowing visitors to click to see featured recipes showing how foods have evolved based on where we sojourned. I can visualize it in my head and wonder why it hasn’t been done already.

For now, I will have to suffice with planning our holiday menus. B’teavon!

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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