The Jew And The Carrot

A Taste of the Shtetl at Warsaw's New Jewish Museum

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Ruth Ellen Gruber
Lunch Options: Museum visitors grab a bite to eat at the cafe on opening weekend.

Making sure food is part of a museum is not an easy task — fresh dishes will perish, plastic ones miss the point.

But, at Warsaw’s new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, food, drink and the special Jewish relationship to eating and drinking will be a recurring thread woven throughout the yet to be installed core exhibition.

The Museum’s striking building was opened to the public April 19, but its permanent exhibition, a narrative presentation of 1,000 years of Jewish life, won’t debut until next year.

“We don’t have separate sections on discreet themes such as women, children, dress, or food,” said Barbara Kirshenblatt Gimblett, the NYU scholar in charge of the team putting together the core exhibition. “There are no encyclopedia entries.” Rather, she said, food, drink and issues related to them would be addressed within the context of the chronological narrative.

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Poland Is Nearing Vote To Legalize Kosher Slaughter

By JTA

The Polish government reportedly is consulting with trade unions on legislation to allow kosher and halal slaughter.

The Polish Press Agency, PAP, reported Jan. 23 that a ministerial committee had given the trade unions copies of a draft amendment allowing ritual slaughter under the Polish Act on the Protection of Animals.

The unions have until Jan. 30 to respond, Malgorzata Ksiazyk of the Polish Ministry of Agriculture told PAP, after which time the bill will be brought to a vote.

Jerzy Wierzbicki, president of the Polish Beef Association, told Polskie Radio on Tuesday that he supported a “liberal policy” on ritual slaughter.

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Polish Court Outlaws Kosher Slaughter

By JTA

A constitutional court in Poland reportedly has ruled against allowing Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter in the country.

The Warsaw court’s ruling, which was made known on Tuesday, said the government had acted unconstitutionally when it exempted Jews and Muslims from stunning animals before slaughtering them as their faiths require, according to Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.

Kadlcik told JTA that in addition to the special exception announced by the Polish Ministry of Agriculture, Jewish ritual slaughter, or shechitah, is permissible under the 1997 Law on Regulating the Relations between the State and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.

“It appears there is a legal contradiction here and it is too early to tell what this means,” he said. “We are seeking legal advice on this right now.”

Poland has approximately 6,000 Jews, according to the European Jewish Congress.

According to Kadlcik, Poland has no kosher slaughterhouses but locally slaughtered kosher meat is nonetheless served at kosher cantines across the country.

“I’m not sure we will be able to keep serving meat there,” he said.

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Krakow’s 'Jewish' Cafes

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Ruth Ellen Gruber
Steve Weintraub reacts to the decor.

Krakow’s old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, is famous (or notorious, depending on how you look at it) for its Jewish-themed tourist infrastructure. Its “Jewish” cafes present a nostalgic literary image of prewar Jewish life — some with taste and sensitivity, others in a disturbingly kitschy manner.

At least a dozen (and maybe more) cafes, restaurants, hotels and other establishments, which are mainly geared toward tourists, make reference to Kazimierz’s Jewish character. In general, furnishings and decor evoke a certain Old World shtetl chic with dark wood, old books, candlesticks, lace doilies, mismatched old furniture, and old (or faux-old) paintings of genre scenes and portraits of rabbis. They spell “Jewish” locally in the same way that dragons and red lanterns spell “Chinese” and that checkered table cloths with Chianti flasks signified “Italian” culture.

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Ghosts of Knishes Past

By Laura Silver

I’m dressing as a knish for Halloween. And it’s not just for kitsch value.

Not only is the yellow foam costume perfect for variable temperatures of autumn, it’s a link to those who came before and a symbol of a culinary tradition embedded in the Day of the Dead.

Dayle Vander Sande

In the Big Apple, the knish conjures nostalgia for days gone by and the hunks of dough that once blanketed deli counters from the Bronx to Brooklyn. Old timers yearn for the knisheries of yore: Mrs. Stahl’s and Hirsch’s of Brighton Beach or Shatzkin’s of Coney Island.

Last year in Poland, I learned the knish is part of historic mourning traditions. Maciek Nowak, a food critic for the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza, explained that he had seen modern-day meat-filled knish-like foods served on November first. In Poland All Saint’s Day is a Catholic and a national holiday when the faithful travel great distances to place candles and flowers on the graves of loved ones. Nowak sketched a plump lump and labeled the parts, saying this doughy dish is eaten on the day. What he drew looked like a knish, and a cousin to the Mexican pan de muertos, the skull- and bone-shaped egg bread consumed on the Day of the Dead.

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