Filed under: culture, Dictionary of Jewish Words, Yiddish | Tags: language, Martha Stewart, maven, word use, writing, Yiddish, Yiddish words
maven: Yiddish noun. An expert or connoisseur, a specialist. A person who considers him or herself to be an expert in a particular area.
When we say “maven,” we conjure up the image of a Jewish expert, like an accountant who’s really good with numbers or a shopper who’s memorized the dates of Nordstrom’s annual sale. Or, we picture someone who is knowledgeable about a Jewish subject or something tangentially Jewish.
When we were looking for a title to go under our joint byline, we dubbed ourselves The Word Mavens. We fit our definition: We’re Jewish and we wrote a Jewish dictionary.
We are not the only word mavens. William Safire was called a “word maven” in his obituary; he wrote a New York Times column called “On Language.” Random House offers The Mavens’ Word of the Day on its website (though its maven is anonymous). We’ll concede that these two are legit, but we get annoyed when the term is thrown around heedlessly and thoughtlessly. These days, it seems like everyone’s a maven. Excuse us while we kvetch about it.
The following confirms our suspicions:
Martha Hall Foose, a Mississippi cookbook author known for her Southern recipes for deviled eggs and skilled fried corn, was lauded as a “cookbook maven.” We think that if you’re going to be a cookbook maven, you there should be recipes for knishes and rugelach somewhere in the equation.
A New England mom of three calls herself and her website “the maven of savin’.” She posts deals, sales and upcoming shopping bargains. Last December she featured Kohl’s holiday kitchen towels with gingerbread, snowmen and Christmas trees. Not a dreidel dishcloth to be found from the “maven of savin’.”
There’s no denying that June Ambrose is a beautiful African-American fashion stylist. She works with celebs like Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and Missy Elliott. The website blackgaygossip.com called her a “black fashion maven.” We hope she knows what it means when Mariah demands, “No more shmattas. I want to be all fapitzed for the Grammys.”
In the headline of her obituary, Hawaiian orchid grower May Arstad Neal Moir was called a “gardening maven.” She was famous for introducing tropical plants to the Nu’uanu Valley and for breeding dozens of new orchid varieties. People may have called this Hawaiian native a ke aloha kumu (beloved teacher), but we doubt anyone ever called her a maven.
Martha Stewart seems to be the quintessential maven. She’s been called a “media maven,” “homemaking maven,” “food maven,” and “entertaining maven.” We think she could also be called the “penultimate makeover maven” for the way she reinvented her life and reenergized her empire upon her release from prison.
We concede that there are a lot of mavens out there running around being experts about all kinds of things. We can’t hold on to the exclusive use of the word. When they are calling football stars “mavens of the gridiron,” we realize that ship has sailed. We’ve got to learn to share.
Filed under: Dictionary of Jewish Words, ethnicity, Yiddish | Tags: Clint Eastwood, cockamamie, Dictionary of Jewish Words, finagle, Oprah, words, Yiddish words
Joyce’s husband was surprised when a non-Jewish patient told him she would need to “finagle time from work” to have surgery.
“How did she know that Yiddish word?” he asked. Turns out, even though it rhymes with bagel, finagle isn’t Yiddish.
Finagle and some others words sure sound Yiddish – they’ve got the “chuuch” or the “fah…” and the insulting adjective quality. Like the whole list of Yiddish words for no-goodnik people, such as shlemiel, shlimazel, shlump and shnook. But don’t be confused: that schnauzer is not a Yiddish dog.
Finagle has been traced to the old English dialect word “fainaigue,” meaning “to cheat or renege.” Today it means something more along the lines of finding a way to get what you want – we’re talking clever, not dishonest.
Evan Morris, the Word Detective, explains finagle this way: “The usual use of the word carries the implication of bending, perhaps twisting, but not breaking the rules. Your average finagler is just looking for an angle, an insider’s discount on storm windows or use of the company truck after work.”
All those kids who get the wrong answer on their algebra homework should know about Finagle’s Constant, a mathematical device that’s inserted into a formula to make the answer come out right. Why didn’t we use it when balancing our checkbooks?
Cockamamie, an adjective meaning absurd, ridiculous or foolish, is mistaken for a Yiddish word so often that we had to put it in our Dictionary to explain that it isn’t.
Cockamamie is an alteration of the French word decalcomanie, combining the French words for “tracing” and “mania.” Decalcomania – transferring designs to pottery or artwork, was popular in the mid-1800s. When the transfers were marketed to children as temporary tattoos in the 1940s and ‘50s, the name was intentionally changed to cockamamies, because it was easier for kids to pronounce.
Today the word refers to more than tattoos. It’s anything that’s a crazy idea or an implausible proposition, as in “My kid says he wants to go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve. What a cockamamie idea!”
Clint Eastwood isn’t Jewish and doesn’t speak Yiddish, but in the movie In The Line Of Fire, he is a veteran Secret Service agent who tries to convince his frightened younger partner to stay on the job. He says that quitting is a “cockamamie” idea and then tells the younger man he should use the word every once in a while to keep it alive.
Oprah Winfrey, the maven of popular culture, made up her own Yiddish word. She combined shlump (a dull colorless person) with her diminutive suffix dinka. She uses the word to describe shlumpy housewives who don’t care how they look. Wearing baggy sweatpants or bad mom jeans, no makeup, and hair gathered in a ponytail, a shlumpadinka is in need of a makeover. In fact, Oprah devoted more than one show to getting women out of their shlumpadinka rut. We were just happy to see that Oprah spells Yiddish words like we do – with “sh” and not “sch.”
So nu? We’re done our spiel for now. We have to go get all ongepotchket. We’re going to meet friends for a nosh at the deli. (All real Yiddish words!)
Filed under: jewish food, Yiddish | Tags: family, Jewish food, Leo Rosten, Mechayeh, nosh, shmutz, shnorrer, Yiddish words
We love sprinkling our conversations with Yiddish words. After all, we are The Word Mavens. There’s nothing wrong with calling it shmutz when you’re sweeping up crushed Cheerios from the kitchen floor. But when we thought about it, we realized that our definition of shmutz is far removed from what our ancestors were describing in the shtetl when they used the word.
Mechayeh literally means “resurrection” – a feeling of pleasure, delight or relief. The word comes from the Hebrew root chai (life) – a mechayeh brings you back to life. “It’s uttered with a smile, a grin, or a pleased cluck,” writes Leo Rosten, author of the definitive book, The Joys of Yiddish. We imagine that back in the shtetl, it was a mechayeh when the Russian soldiers rode by and didn’t stop to break down your door.
Decades later, our definitive definition of mechayeh comes from Mitzi, Joyce’s mother-in-law, who described it as the feeling she had at the end of the day when she wiggled out of her tight girdle. Today, we say it’s a mechayeh when we’ve been running errands all day long in the heat and our last stop is a store that’s air-conditioned, when we slip off our high heels under the table at a wedding reception or we take that first sip of fresh coffee in the morning.
Shnorrer comes from the Yiddish “to beg.” A shnorrer is a freeloader, a moocher, or someone who borrows with no intention of repaying. Leo Rosten describes him as “no fool, not a simpleton… he comes from a long tradition of begging and mooching.”
Rosten tells this story:
A shnorrer knocked on the door of a rich man’s house at 6:30 in the morning.
The rich man cried, “How dare you wake me up so early?”
“Listen,” said the shnorrer, “I don’t tell you how to run your business, so don’t tell me how to run mine.”
These days shnorrers don’t beg; they just take more than their fair share. They love buffets. You can find them by the free sample table at Costco and Trader Joe’s.
Joyce always accepts the free sample slice of bread at Metropolitan Bakery, but never buys a loaf. Does that make her a shnorrer? We think not, because she felt guilty at the Italian deli accepting the toothpick sample bite of $100 a pound Spanish ham without making a purchase. It didn’t seem to bother the man next to her; he ate five samples.
Which leads us to wonder: Are you a shnorrer if you. . .
- routinely toss the tiny hotel shampoo and conditioner bottles into your suitcase,
- are one of the legion of grandmothers who steal Sweet & Low from coffee bars,
- say to your family, “Come on, that’s us,” when the maitre d’ calls out something unintelligible while you are waiting for a table
- still accept dinner invitations from the family that has had you over three times when you’ve never had them back?
There’s no question that the grandmother Joyce once saw tilt an entire plate of brisket into her plastic bag-lined pocketbook was a shnorrer.
Nosh comes from the German “to nachen,” which means to eat on the sly. A nosh is a snack, a tidbit, something in between meals. Our pal Leo Rosten says that “Jews loved to nosh, long before they went to a cocktail party.”
In the old days, they’d nosh on gribenes (fatty chicken skin fried with onions and goose fat) or a kichel (a plain egg cookie). Our grandparents’ idea of a good nosh was with chicken fat, chopped liver or herring shmeered on pumpernickel.
Today in our houses, a pre-dinner nosh might be baby carrots dipped into hummus, a sushi roll, or the chicken Caesar wrap left over from yesterday’s lunch.
Jewish delis have a proud heritage of giving out noshes. As customers stood in line, deli guys would pass out samples of pastrami or put a plate on the deli case so customers could help themselves. After a few bites of free pickle, a slice of salami and a nibble of cheese –who needs lunch? It’s a shnorrer’s dream…
Filed under: calendar, holidays, Yiddish | Tags: April Fools' Day, careerbuilder.com, Museum of Hoaxes, pranks, The Onion
Uh oh. Today’s Joyce’s birthday and she might now to be in the “old fool” category so we’re changing the title to You Can’t Fool Us!
The next holiday coming up is . . . not Passover. It’s April Fools’ Day. And it’s not one of our favorites. Sure, we thought it was funny/cute when our kids were little and we would wake up to rubber snakes in our beds or sit down on whoopee cushions placed on kitchen chairs.
It’s been years since we “celebrated” the holiday, but judging from the 2,980 results on Google, it has a lot of admirers who enjoy pranks and practical jokes. In this time of anti-bullying efforts, many of the tricks strike us a mean-spirited and stupid.
Careerbuilder.com’s list of the top 10 workplace pranks in 2010 included “hilarious” things like: Sending a fake love note to a co-worker from another co-worker, filling the vending soda machine with cans of beer, and putting a “house for sale” ad in the newspaper regarding your boss’s home. They didn’t list the name of the lawyer you’ll need when your co-worker sues you for sexual harassment or your boss takes out a restraining order.
This is one more reason we both like being self-employed. Ellen doesn’t have to glue a pencil to Joyce’s desk just because it’s April 1st.
But we do get a kick out of clever hoaxes that don’t hurt anyone, like the time in 1985 when writer George Plimpton wrote a story for Sports Illustrated about a fabulous new rookie pitcher for the Mets.
The museumofhoaxes.com ranked the “top 100 April Fools’ Day Hoaxes of All Time as judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.” Plimpton’s is No. 2. The best hoax was the BBC’s announcement that Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper crop of spaghetti. The network even showed footage of people pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees.
At The Onion, every day is April Fools’. The newspaper and website feature satirical articles that poke fun at everyone from politicians to entertainers – and it’s very entertaining! Last week they reported that the “Postal Service Celebrates Another Awesome Day Of Delivering Mail.”
In the shtetls of Eastern Europe, among Yiddish speaking Jews, it seemed that every day was April Fools’ Day, or at least every day was a day you could meet a fool – or a shmendrick, shmeggegge, shlemiel or shlimazel. Just like the Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, Yiddish has dozens of words to describe a fool. Some of them are to be pitied; others are just unlucky. Leo Rosten, author of The Joys of Yiddish, is best at distinguishing one from another. He writes, “A shlemiel can be physically impressive, but not a shmendrick. A shmendrick is short, small, weak and thin, a young nebbish, maybe an apprentice shlemiel. A shmeggegge is a cross between a shlimazel and a shlemiel.”
So where did this crazy holiday idea come from? Legend is that in 1582, when Pope Gregory changed the calendar to the Gregorian calendar named for him, New Year’s Day moved from the end of March to January 1. Not everybody got the memo. Others stubbornly stuck with the old calendar and continued to celebrate on April 1. Pranksters would sneak up behind them and stick a paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish. We think it’s a pretty lame prank compared to replacing the tube of toothpaste with hemorrhoid cream.
According to literary scholars, the April Fools’ tradition is even older. They cite the first reference to the holiday in 1392, when in “The Nun’s Priest Tale,” one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the proud rooster Chauntecleer is fooled by a fox.
April 1 is coming up, and we’ll be ready and watching you. So don’t hack our Facebook page and change our status to single. Don’t order 10 pizzas and have them delivered to our address. But if you do want to put a rubber spider on the dinner plate for old times’ sake, we’ll be okay with that.
Filed under: culture, jewish food, Jewish mothers, Yiddish | Tags: bubbies, Campbell’s Soup, chicken soup, culture, ethnicity, family, Jewish cooking, matzah balls, recipes, soup
It’s freezing cold and we’ve had a lot of snow. Lucky for us, January is National Soup Month.
It only took a few clicks to learn that the word soup comes from the word sop, which referred to the piece of bread or toast that was soaked in broth and then eaten. You know, as in “sop up the broth.” Soup was one of the first fast foods. As early as 600 BCE, the Greeks sold soup on the street — with peas, beans and lentils as main ingredients.
Soup was revolutionized right in our own backyard when Dr. John Dorrance, a chemist, figured out how to reduce the water in soup. It was his idea to sell a small can of condensed soup for a dime. His invention made his family millionaires and changed the fortunes of the Campbell’s Soup company, too.
Every culture has its favorite soup. This past weekend, Joyce cooked up a batch of split pea soup with ham, her husband’s favorite. Ellen made ribollita, the Tuscan bean soup her husband fell in love with on a trip to Italy. Ribollita means “reboiled,” because this is a soup that improves with age. The more times you reheat it, the more the flavors meld and intensify. Classic ribollita uses white beans and is vegetarian, but Italian grandmothers have many variations; some include pancetta or ham, others add Swiss chard or Tuscan kale.
If you have a Jewish grandmother, chances are you have some chicken soup memories. Joyce is happy to have her grandmother’s vintage aluminum stockpot, which is so tall it doesn’t fit in a kitchen cabinet. But even using a vintage pot, it’s hard to reproduce the soup of memories. Our friend, Stephanie believes the deep, rich yellow color of the chicken soup she loved came from the chicken feet that were crucial to her family’s recipe. Although she loved that soup, Stephanie has yet to ask for chicken feet at the local Acme.
While some bubbies never wrote down their recipes, Joyce’s Aunt Ruth did. Her cooking skills live on, thanks to a website she created to preserve her family recipes for her grandchildren. In between recipes for mandelbrot and macaroons, you can find her chicken soup recipe. Here’s the link: http://playalong.tripod.com/cook.html.
As a child, Jill went to her grandparents’ house every weekend. (Jill and Joyce have been sisters since they were about 8, when Joyce’s dad married Jill’s mom). “I lived for my Nan’s chicken soup. It was so good, but how do you describe wonderful soup?” Jill remembers that it was a clear broth – no carrots or celery afloat – and she was thrilled that she got to pick whether fine or wide noodles, rice, bowties or alphabet noodles (her favorite) went into the soup. “I can still picture my grandmother in her kitchen stirring her big pot of soup,” Jill remembers.
Others reminisce about chicken soup with kreplach (Jewish wontons) or matzah balls. The Yiddish word for matzah ball dumplings is knaidlach, as in “Don’t be stingy, give the boy more knaidlach.” Just the mention of matzah balls can start a heated discussion of whether your grandmother’s or mother’s were “sinkers” (heavy and compact) or “floaters” (lighter and more fluffy). Everyone has a preference and a favorite way to make them. Do you add seltzer to the egg mix to make them lighter? Do you boil the matzah balls in plain water first, or does that rob them of any flavor? Do you cover the stockpot tightly and resist the urge to peek, thus ensuring fluffy, thoroughly cooked orbs?
In some Jewish families, dinner isn’t dinner without chicken soup. Even on an American holiday like Thanksgiving, before the turkey and sweet potatoes, the senior Scolnics have been known to ask, “Do you want one matzah ball or two in your soup?”
When you’ve got a cold or flu, there’s nothing like a bowl of chicken soup. We’ve all heard the expression that chicken soup is Jewish penicillin. Bubbies for generations have been telling us that drinking the hot soup and breathing in the steam will give us nourishment and make us feel better. Their theories were proven true by doctors who published a study in the medical journal Chest, concluding that “chicken soup will stimulate nasal clearing and may improve the upper respiratory tract symptoms.”
So get cooking. There are two more months left of winter. And please share your soup memories with us by posting a comment.
Filed under: Jewish mothers, Uncategorized, Yiddish | Tags: baby shower, evil eye, kinehora, reading, sewing, superstition
In our last blog, we talked about superstitions, particularly the “evil eye.” One of the many ways to ward off the lurking evil eye – or ill wishes from a malevolent person – is by uttering the phrase “kineahora” (no evil eye). It’s the Jewish equivalent of not counting your chickens before they hatch. And it’s no surprise that those who believe in superstition the most are most anxious to protect the kinder.
After all, who needs protection from the evil eye more than a defenseless child?
That’s why it’s traditional for Ashkenazic Jews to name a new baby after a deceased relative, preferably one who lived a long time. Of course, it’s a way to honor a loved one and remember his or her name, but it also provides protection. If you name a child for someone who is still alive, the worry is that when the Angel of Death comes for the older person, he might get confused and take the child. If you name a child for someone who is no longer living, you avoid all that confusion and the child is extra safe.
Another way to keep the evil eye at bay is to refrain from purchasing baby clothes, a crib or other paraphernalia until after the baby is born. If the evil eye should see you getting a nursery ready, who knows what would happen? That’s why many Jewish women don’t have baby showers. We love baby gifts as much as anyone, but please wait until the baby actually arrives to give them to us.
In Israel, where they’ve adopted so many western customs, like white wedding dresses and fast food hamburgers, it’s still unheard of to hold a baby shower before the baby is born. In the United States, modern Jews usually arrive at some compromise, like hiding the baby clothes in a closet or buying a crib but not assembling it until the baby is born – but it still feels like one is tempting fate.
Other ways to protect the kids:
- Tie a red ribbon or red thread to a baby’s crib or a child’s underwear. Mitzi, Joyce’s mother-in-law, was a big believer in this one. Not only did she tie ribbons to her sons’ cribs, but she also put a red ribbon in every drawer in the house and every pocketbook she owned.
- Refuse to name exactly how many children or grandchildren are in your family. If the evil eye doesn’t know how many children there are, how can they be harmed? That’s why when some Bubbes are asked, “How many grandchildren do you have now?” they might reply “Kinehora, not seven.” To the most prying of nosy bodies, Ellen’s mother has been heard to say, “I don’t know; I haven’t counted.”
- Make sure the children have the best piece of meat. This won’t protect them from the evil eye but it will guarantee that they have a full tummy. Ellen’s great aunt, Bea, was famous for being a kitchen-table martyr for the children. “Give the boys the white meat. I really do like the dried out turkey wings the best!”
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, who writes as “the fly-fishing rabbi,” says that many superstitions are related to life-cycle events, like the birth of a child or a marriage. The birth of a child is a blessing, but also a source of anxiety, according to Rabbi Eisenkramer. New parents might be nervous, siblings unsure of changes in the family. And everyone wants the baby to be safe and healthy. “Superstitions, like tying a red ribbon on the crib to keep away the evil eye, help people to navigate change in their lives,” he says.
Did your mother ever tell you not to leave your dishes in the sink or your book open on the table? Okay, so the first one isn’t a bubbe meises (an old wives’ tale) – it’s just good housekeeping. But the second one is. This superstition probably started with prayer books or Talmudic tracts. If such books were left open on a table, clever devils or evil spirits who happened by would have the chance to “read” the holy books, take the knowledge, and use it to make trouble. So you should always close your books – even if you’re reading Danielle Steele. And turn off your Kindle.
At a recent book talk, a man told us that when he was a boy, if his mother sewed a button back onto his shirt while he was wearing it, she would make him chew on a piece of thread while she sewed. He never knew the reason, but like a good son should, he obeyed. We found out the idea behind this superstition: It’s important to distinguish this sewing action from that of the burial shroud, which is sewn around the body of the deceased.
Obviously, sewing someone’s clothes while they are still wearing the item might tempt the evil eye. But if you are moving your mouth and chewing on something while someone mends your shirt, it is a sure indication that you’re still alive and not ready for a shroud yet!
When our kids were small, it was easy to know where they were and what they were doing. We could protect them. But now that they are globetrotting on semesters abroad, texting while crossing city streets, and driving up and down the East Coast, it’s not so easy. So we will text them a kineahora emoticon >-) and hope it works.
P.S. This emoticon is supposed to look like the wink of the devil!
Filed under: Dictionary of Jewish Words, Yiddish | Tags: bagels, Brighton Beach, Jewish foods, Jewish words, kugel, Long Island, New York, sisterhood, Thanksgiving
When we say “road trip,” you might imagine a scene from Thelma & Louise, when Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis take off in a ’66 Thunderbird after shooting a rapist. Or maybe Easy Rider, when Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda set out on their motorcycles in search of America.
Sorry to disappoint you. Ours was not a wild and crazy escapade. It was an overnight trip to Merrick, NY – or as they say out there, “Lungggg Guyland.” We ventured over the Verrazano Bridge and out the Belt Parkway to the epicenter of Jewish New York. We were invited to give our book talk – based on our Dictionary of Jewish Words – to the sisterhood ladies.
Here’s our report from the road:
What a spread! We walked into the mirrored synagogue social hall and were reminded of all those elaborate New York weddings. We weren’t disappointed. Those ladies really know how to throw a party. This one started with butlered hot hors d’oeuvres. “Try the spicy Mexican roll-ups,” our hosts urged us. “The hors d’oeuvres are the best part.” Along with a big bowl of fruit-laced Sangria on the cold buffet, there were bottles on wine on each table. Since we needed to be coherent to present our program, we didn’t imbibe – unlike some of the guests. Dinner featured hand-carved turkey and corn beef and an array of salads.
Of the 73 meals we’ve eaten as guests of sisterhoods, this was the winner. It was a far cry from some of the senior centers we’ve played, where they charge the members $2 for soup and half a tuna sandwich.
The bagel controversy: As long as we were going to New York, Ellen wanted to bring home a dozen bagels. Ellen would never concede that the Yankees are better than the Phillies, but she will readily admit that New York bagels are superior to anything available in our neighborhood. In the Philly suburbs, we mostly have national chains where the unbaked bagels are delivered frozen and then baked by dubious bagel authorities.
We asked our hosts where we could get a good bagel. Our question almost sparked a riot. The audience members fought amongst themselves, arguing over which bagel place was best.
“Don’t go to Bagel Cafe. The bagels are too big and not as tasty. Go to Bagel Shop.”
“I once went to Bagel Shop and they forgot my cream cheese.”
“Bagel Shop doesn’t know from cream cheese, and you have to ask for your bagel to be toasted.”
We went to the closest place. We thought it was fabulous, and we were overwhelmed by the selection. They had bialys, gluten-free bagels, flagels (flat bagels for sandwiches), rugelach, coffee cake and more. They had three kinds of lox, herring, Israeli salad, and four kinds of cream cheese. We asked them if they’d drive 130 miles to cater parties in our neighborhood. We bought a dozen bagels to take home and they were delicious. The Word Mavens will concede bagels to New York because the Phillies will win the World Series next year.
The retired shmoozers: We sat down to enjoy our bagels shmeared with lox spread, and it was like being in episode of Seinfeld. Two retired guys were holding court in the back booth, discussing in great detail the best way to carve a Thanksgiving turkey. Of course, we listened in, and found out that “it’s better to cut the whole breast away. Then you can slice it on the plate.”
Thanksgiving dinner conquered, they turned to reminiscing about their mother’s cholent (a slow-cooked stew made of beef, beans and potatoes.) Cholent is not a word you hear every day, but they were talking about it with such affection that you would think they had eaten it for breakfast that morning. One man rhapsodized, “If only I could have her back to cook one more pot of cholent for me…”
We were so inspired that we looked up the recipe. Simple ingredients. Not too many spices. It seemed lackluster. Apparently, the missing ingredient is having it cooked just for you and presented with love by your bubbe.
Who knew New York was another country? We know that holiday observances and traditions vary widely among Jews. Much depends on where you grew up and how your family celebrates. For example, Sephardic haroset (the chunky paste on the seder plate) often contains Mediterranean fruits like figs and apricots, while the Ashkenazic version uses apples. But who knew there were parts of our country – Long Island, we’re talking about you! – whose natives don’t know from shnecken or rugelach – two delicious bite-sized pastries that vary in shape and filling?
We know New Yorkers talk funny, but they were mystified by some of our talk. We asked if they pronounced the traditional Jewish noodle pudding “kigel” or “kugel.” They never knew there was more than one way to say it! In this great debate, our Long Island audience unanimously voted for “kugel” – the pronunciation that originated with Jews from Lithuania and is most common today. It’s how they spell it in supermarkets and delis. “Kigel” was the way Jews from Galicia, a region of southeast Poland and part of Russia, pronounced it.
Connecting with our landsmen: Many of our ancestors come from Russia, and we always wanted to see Brighton Beach, the section of Brooklyn where Russian Jewish immigrants settled in droves. We detoured off of Ocean Parkway to make a pit stop here on our way home. We were the only people speaking English as we walked along the avenue and stopped in the food markets. You know we went straight for the food. We came home with:
- a dozen potato knishes that were made with a flaky dough – unfamiliar but delicious.
- Lox cut the Russian way – thickly and in squares. Our families said we should have bought more.
- Meat kreplach (still in the freezer so the jury is out).
- Russian-label chocolate bars. We couldn’t read the ingredients, but they were gobbled up.
By noon, after 24 hours of road-tripping together – shmoozing, laughing, eating and kvetching about the hotel beds – we were glad to be headed back down the Jersey turnpike toward home.
But we’re looking forward to our next road trip.