My brain fires
into my belly.
in having been able
Matzo meal on the doorstep.
From Ottawa to St. John’s.
The cookbook’s photographer
has made the lowly matzo ball
an object of beauty
when we shared a city.
The jars of chicken soup
on my lap
in the subway
to U of T.
and the Yiddish
that my Mama
didn’t leave behind.
Scraggly broccoli florets
Picked over twice
by the two of them.
Pesto spaghettini long gone.
He pulled other spines from the fridge.
shaving the brown pebbly veneer
hiding cauliflower flesh.
Plant carcasses laid gently to heat.
Pungent onion sinews
squashed garlic hoofs
Tang veiling the panes.
the radio news. Cast.
Floppy pages pushing
Puddles trickle down.
This set of three autoethnographic[i] poems traces interpenetrations of food and language that mediate experiences of loss and continuity. “Simmering Tongue” mourns and honours my late mother and late grandmother as it reflects on how cooking and ingredients carry personal memories and broader cultural and linguistic heritages through histories of migration.[ii] The second poem in the series evokes the kitchen spaces where familial vegetarianism emerged. One of the aspects of Yiddish, and more broadly Jewish, cuisine that became a mainstream metaphor in North American popular culture in the second half of the 20th century were the emotional as well as nutritional benefits of chicken soup. In “Pungent Shadows,” I evoke the lesser-known practices associated with the vegetarian versions of Jewish traditions of broths and stews – including the frugal “picking over” of nutritional remnants.[iii] “Memory Cloaks” refers to café and walking spaces frequented by intellectuals and artists in cities where I have lived or sojourned in North America and Europe.[iv] In this third poem, I specifically evoke St. John’s – with its many warm cafés and hilly, often damp, walking paths – as a backdrop for the imaginary.
Newly-available materials relevant to Yiddish food studies have helped me think about my Ashkenazic food heritage differently. An example that unexpectedly ties together these three poems is Fania Lewando’s 1938 vegetarian cookbook, recently translated from Yiddish into English by Eve Jochnowitz.[v] As her great-nephew Efraim Sicher explains, this new version of the book “is a matzeva (memorial) to Fania Lewando, hy’d, a woman who devoted her life to promoting Jewish vegetarian cuisine” during the period of anti-Semitism leading up to the Holocaust.[vi] She ran a restaurant and cooking school in Vilna, a major Jewish cultural centre before the Nazi invasion. We know that her restaurant was “a salon for Vilna’s artists and writers” with comments in its guest book by “many luminaries, including the artist Marc Chagall and the Yiddish poet and playwright Itzik Manger.”[vii] This beautiful cookbook invites us to reproduce what she served her customers. Like other surviving works of Yiddish literature from this period, it helps us to appreciate the vibrancy of Jewish cosmopolitan modernist culture and its secular sanctuaries in early 20th century Europe.[viii]
Sharon Roseman lives in St. John’s where she is Professor of Anthropology and Academic Editor of ISER Books at Memorial University. She recently published in Poetica Magazine: Contemporary Jewish Writing and her latest prose book is the co-edited volume The Tourism Imaginary and Pilgrimages to the Edges of the World.
Gloria Roseman (née Kerdman), of blessed memory.
Dumplings made from matzo meal. Matzo is unleavened flat bread consumed during the eight day Jewish festival of Peysekh (Passover). For these and all terms, I am employing the transliteration used by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in sources such as The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/).
Raymond Sokolov, recipes by Susan R. Friedland, photographs by Louis Wallach, The Jewish-American Kitchen (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1989).
The Yiddish term for grandmother.
Filled cookies made for the festival of Purim.
The acronym for the Montreal neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, where my maternal grandparents lived for some years.
Edith Kerdman (née Katz), of blessed memory.
Filled dumplings eaten on various holidays.
University of Toronto.
Yiddish developed as the main daily language of Ashkenazic Jewish populations and has rich literary, philosophical, musical, theatrical, journalistic and other expressive traditions. Many of the victims of the Holocaust were Yiddish speakers. Yiddish was carried to countries all over the world, including Canada. In the 1931 Canadian population census, 96 per cent of Jews listed their “mother tongue” as Yiddish (Rebecca Margolis, Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil: Yiddish Culture in Montreal, 1905-1945, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011, 23). It was the third most spoken language in Montreal in the early 20th century (Ibid.).
Autoethnographic representations created by either professional ethnographers or others constitute “a form of self-narrative that places the self within a social context.” This definition is taken from Deborah E. Reed-Danahay, “Introduction,” in Auto/Ethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social, ed. Deborah E. Reed-Danahay (Oxford and New York: Berg, 1997), 9
This is an important topic in the cross-cultural ethnographic food studies literature. See, for example, David E. Sutton, Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory (Oxford & New York: Berg, 2001) and Sharon R. Roseman, “Bioregulation and Comida Caseira in Rural Galicia, Spain,” Identities 11.1 (2004): 9-37. For different examples regarding Jewish food and memory, see, for example, Barbara Myerhoff, Number Our Days (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980); Jillian Gould, “A Nice Piece of Cake and a Kibitz,” Home Cultures 10.2 (2013): 189-206; and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 126-128.
On the centrality of cuisine within practice theory, see Michel de Certeau, Luce Giard, and Pierre Mayol, The Practice of Everyday Life. Volume 2: Living and Cooking, trans. Timothy J. Tomasik (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).
Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 91-110.
Fania Lewando, The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook. Translated, annotated and adapted by Eve Jochnowitz (New York: Schocken Books, 2015). Also consult Eve Jochnowitz and Lisa Newman, “Rediscovering The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook,” (podcast: November 4, 2015), The Shmooze, Yiddish Book Center. http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/language-literature-culture/the-shmooze/106-rediscovering-vilna-vegetarian-cookbook: Accessed March 1, 2016; Sarah Ellen Zarrow, “Radical, Rational Eating: Eve Jochnowitz on Eastern European Vegetarians, Jewish Politics, and Translating The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook,” Interview, In geveb (September 2016): http://ingeveb.org/blog/radical-rational-eating-eve-jochnowitz-on-jewishness-vegetarian-food-and-translating-the-vilna-vegetarian-cookbook: Accessed November 10, 2016.
Efraim Sicher, “Fania Lewando: A Lost Treasure from Jewish Vilna,” in Fania Lewando, The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook. Translated, annotated and adapted by Eve Jochnowitz (New York: Schocken Books, 2015), xxxvi. Fania Lewando and her husband Lazar Lewando were among the majority of the Jewish population who died after the Nazis took over Vilna. Joan Nathan. “Foreword,” in Fania Lewando, The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook. Translated, annotated and adapted by Eve Jochnowitz (New York: Schocken Books, 2015), xxvii.
Joan Nathan. “Foreword,” in Fania Lewando, The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook. Translated, annotated and adapted by Eve Jochnowitz (New York: Schocken Books, 2015), xxvi. Also see examples of guest book entries and biographies of various guests on pages 203-211.
On the effort to save Yiddish books, see Aaron Lansky, Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004).
Sharon Roseman habite à Saint-Jean où elle est Professeur d’Anthropologie et Rédactrice Académique de ISER Books à l’Université Memorial. Elle a récemment publié dans Poetica Magazine: Contemporary Jewish Writing et son dernier livre en prose est le volume The Tourism Imaginary and Pilgrimages to the Edges of the World.