Here on the East Coast, it’s not hard to come across a media story about the popularity of “Jewish food.” Recently, much of this coverage has been about the food entrepreneurs—mostly in Brooklyn—who are “reinventing” recipes. Since my company Challah Connection is all about Jewish food traditions and kosher gifts, I find this new coverage really exciting. Not only does it validate our mission, but it makes me proud of our younger generation who are embracing traditions which will help to make our Jewish heritage live on and on and on.
Having spent time in places like Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Israel and therefore being familiar with the source of great rugelach, babka, knaidelach and more, it’s almost like coming full circle seeing these foods being reinvented right here in New York City. Jeffrey Yoskowitz, an owner of Gefilteria, a boutique purveyer of old world Jewish food, said in a recent New York Times article: “It turns out that our ancestors knew what they were doing.” and “The recipes and techniques are almost gone, and we have to capture the knowledge before it’s lost.”
Thanks to these new food entrepreneurs, the new versions of these foods will be more appropriate to the way we eat now. For example, my husband talks about the gribenus (fried chicken skin) his grandmother cooked on the Lower East Side. No chance that we would eat that now. But on the other hand, Gefilteria’s gefilte fish, which we sell at Challah Connection, has nothing bad! Ok, a little bit of sugar—but other than that, all of the ingredients are simple, clean and gluten free. It’s downright exciting that Melissa Weller and Black Seed Bagels are bringing bagels back the way they used to be and should be. Bagels should not be a puffy mound of dough enough for 3 people!
But thinking broader then just food is the idea that these younger people are embracing and redefining being Jewish. In addition to new takes on favorite Jewish foods, concepts like Moishe House and Pop-up Shabbat are bringing a new, easy going and inclusive way to be Jewish. You just need to love the food and the warm, homey feeling to go to these events. At these venues, everyone is invited and accepted. Hopefully, you’ll sing and dance-and EAT– and come back next time. Of course, not everyone agrees that this new Jewish openness is “kosher” but of course, that is another discussion topic for another day.
There is no doubt in my mind that “Jewish food” creates a strong connection to being Jewish and it does for 3 important reasons: Taste, Tradition and Nostalgia.