The Shmooze

Herring, Puns and Michael Chabon at Jewish Cultural Awards

By Masha Leon

  • Print
  • Share Share

“Do you know why the sea is salty?” I asked Mark Russ Federman, third generation owner of Russ & Daughters during the champagne reception at the June 10 Foundation for Jewish Culture’s 2013 Jewish Cultural Achievement Awards at The TimesCenter.

Without missing a beat, he gave the classic shtetl wisdom answer: “Because herrings swim in the sea.” At opposite ends of the Yiddish mameloshn spectrum — he of the Galitzianer persuasion and me a Litvak — we parsed the merits of white fish, schmaltz and matjes herring, before he introduced me to the fourth generation Russ & Daughters owners — inheritors of the 100–year old company’s lox and keys — Niki Russ Federman and Joshua Russ Tupper.

Karen Leon
Joshua Russ Tupper, Niki Russ Federman and Mark Russ Federman

“True story,” a farklempt Niki Russ Federman told the 300 festive guests. “A man walks into an appetizing store on the Lower East Side. He breathes in the aroma of the co-mingling smoked fish, pickled herrings,fresh breads, dried fruits and sweets. He breathes out, ‘Ahhh…I smell Judaism!’ That actually happens pretty regularly at Russ & Daughters.” Noting the upcoming centennial next year, she mused: “That’s 100 years of four generations’ worth of slicing fish, kibitzing across the counter and obsessing over quality… It’s 100 years of brises, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and inevitably shivas… Really — how else do Jews say ‘I love you,’ ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ or ‘mazel tov!’ than with a fatty whitefish, a nice herring, bagels and babka?”

“I stand before you as a member of the People of the Pun. A Jew de Mots,” said award recipient Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” and the “Yiddish Policemen’s Union.” “I am the son and grandson of punsters and heir of Jewish punsters going all the way back to Abraham who couldn’t even name his son ‘Yitzhak’ without laughing about it. I can’t see anybody who claims to love language and fail to marvel at the beautiful slipperiness of meaning that puns — like aquarium nets — catch and bring shimmering to the surface.”

In her acceptance speech, award recipient Deborah Dash Moore, prize-winning author of “At Home in America: Second Generation New York Jews,” editor of “City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York,” recalled a third grade class trip to do rubbings of manhole covers. “We learned simultaneously about the city’s infrastructure and the beauty of design in ordinary objects… Jewishness was also interwoven into the urban fabric.”

The evening also honored film producer Scott Berrie, founder and CEO of Impulse Creative Productions and president of Bard College [since 1975) Leon Botstein — a celebrated conductor and musicologist and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra. The evening’s emcee was president emeritus of The New York Library, Paul LeClerc and the nibbles were inspired by Russ & Daughters.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: russ, puns, michael chabon, jewish, daughters, culture

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.