Last year, Rubashkin — the name of the family that owned and ran Agriprocessors, the country’s largest kosher meatpacking plant — became synonymous with scandal. In May 2008, U.S. immigration officials raided the plant, arresting 389 illegal aliens employed there, and company owners were charged on numerous counts of violating child labor and immigration laws. The highly publicized case also put a spotlight on a disquieting history of accusations of mistreatment of animals at the slaughterhouse.
For 100 years, we were a restaurant family. From 1888 to 1988, we threw out food. Pristine bread trays, untouched butter ramekins, plat du jours at the end of the jour. Anything tired or wilted was whooshed into the garbage, OUT! Every morning, as the sun rose over the East River, the kitchens started from scratch.
A longtime professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, David Kraemer regularly ventures a few blocks north of the campus to shop at the Harlem Fairway.
At this New York foodie mecca, the mostly vegetarian Kraemer, who is the primary cook of his family, indulges his zeal for all things culinary while rustling up ingredients for Shabbat dinner.
He may be one of the last of a famous breed, but Cliff Fyman, who has worked at Sardi’s for almost two decades, is that beloved icon of New York culture: the Jewish waiter.
A published poet and an accomplished visual artist, Fyman says that a blue-collar job is one that enables him “not to take my job home with me.” He tried bartending, but found that he had to talk too much with the customers and consequently had “no more words left for poetry.”
At the crux of the regulation of food preparation and ingestion is the question of how our religious ritual activities hallow our lives and shore up our ethnic/national identity. The rationale for the laws of kashrut may indeed be arcane and unknown, indeed unknowable; but at bottom they are all about a reverence for life.
For some, hamed — the lemony, garlicky, minty staple of Sephardic cuisine — has mystical powers. For this author, it is a taste of home.
I have lost weight, and I think it is simply because I don’t each much anymore.
I have grown tired of my Manhattan eateries, my takeout meals, even my gourmet Glatt Kosher emporium on the East Side, which sells classical Eastern European fare such as cooked brisket and stuffed cabbage.
Every year, my father begins his seder with a story about the year that he, my mother and I were in South America. We were in Montevideo, Uruguay; Passover was only five days away and we had no seder plans. On Friday night, he went to one of the two shuls in town, hoping that he might meet someone who would invite us to his or her home for a seder. No one spoke to him. The next morning, he went to the other shul across town. Right away, he was greeted by the rabbi who promptly invited him over for lunch.
Aaron and I lingered at the buffet table, enormous bowls of pasta salad and vegetables spread out in front of us. Our minyan was celebrating the purchase of a pre-World War II Torah that had been recently rescued from its hiding spot in the basement of an old synagogue in Romania.
“It’s funny, that guy over there just asked if we were dating,” I mentioned, as I reached for some tortellini with pesto. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard that question. Earlier this week, someone asked me the same thing.”
At the turn of the 20th century, the presence of acculturated Jews in the renowned literary and artistic Viennese cafés was so pronounced that a proverb claiming that “the Jew belongs in the coffeehouse” was widely circulated in the city. Today, a hundred years later, the city of Tel Aviv can lay claim not only to serving some of the best coffee available anywhere, but also to fostering and sustaining a thriving café culture; a culture with heritage that goes back to the 1930s and the immigrants who came from cities like Vienna, Berlin and Warsaw.
For most people, there are two choices for pastrami sandwich accompaniment: cream soda or Cel-Ray. Cream soda, the prevalent option, is a retiring beverage. Too feeble for a lead, it plays decent second fiddle to a salty meat sandwich. Then there’s Cel-Ray, the connoisseur’s choice.