By Ben Greenman
Eating Jewish wasn’t a religious issue. It was a cultural issue. That’s what my parents always told me, partly to explain my grandmother. We’d go over there, my two brothers and I, and within twenty minutes we’d vanish inside a welter of bread, butter, brisket, potatoes, soup, sugar soda (not allowed at home), cookies (allowed, but not at those levels), and ice cream. Who needs two desserts? We did.
Eating Jewish wasn’t a cultural issue. It was a historical one. That’s what my grandparents told me, partly to counter my parents. Here in America, not two decades after the family had arrived, stuffed full of hope, the Great Depression had descended, a period of severe privation that rivaled the problems my great-grandfather had faced in Russia, minus the Cossacks shooting at him in the apple orchard.
Eating Jewish wasn’t a historical issue. It was an ethical one. That’s what my great-grandfather told me, partly to amplify my grandparents. No one in the trunk of my family tree was in the Holocaust, but my grandfather had cousins. His father’s brothers had left Russia for France, certain they would have a better life. But they were heading into the teeth of time. Eating, and eating well, was proof that no one could keep us from life.
Eating Jewish was none of those things. It was a tactic. That’s what my brothers and I told each other. Eating with the family was a way of keeping you at the table, eating Jewish, talking about what it wasn’t, demonstrating what it was.
What’s a strong memory you have of eating with your family around a table?
Ben Greenman is a bestselling author of fiction and nonfiction. He lives in Brooklyn.