Say It Like You Eat ItLe Manger et Le Dire

Three Poems[Record]

  • Sharon R. Roseman

This set of three autoethnographic 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. 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. “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. 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. 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. 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.” 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.

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