Tuesday 14 February 2023

The Adventures of L-Plate Bubbe: The Tao of Chicken Soup


What makes me a Jew? It's a good question. And like everything else connected with Judaism, there isn't one single answer. Sorry. Look up an official definition and you get something like: Jews are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelites and Hebrews of historical Israel and Judah. 

So, maybe that.

Jewish law (Halacha) states that to be Jewish, you have to be born of a Jewish mother, as the descent is matrilineal. However, the Bible (Torah) sees Jewish identity as patrilineal. 

See what I mean?

When I was applying to get my family's German citizenship 'restored' after the UK left the EU, the German government was only interested in whether my family's loss had occurred on my father's side. However when my brother's secular marriage broke down and he went frum, emigrated to Israel and subsequently wished to marry an Orthodox Jewess, my mother had to prove she had married in synagogue for it to be allowed. (The first marriage was discounted as the former wife was a gentile).

There are also various rules, complicated definitions, arguments, counter arguments etc. for people who decide to convert, or people who have one non-Jewish parent. We Jews love a good debate. We will kvetch and kibbitz until the sun goes down. And then some.

However, I believe there is one question that covers everything, and the answer to which proves definitely, once and for all time, whether you or I are really Jewish or not. And it is this: Do you have your mother's recipe for chicken soup?

I do.

                         My Mother's Chicken Soup

For this you will need a large pot, into which you put chopped celery, chopped onion, sliced carrots, then place on top a chicken (my mother used to actually pluck the chicken, then singe the remaining quills. I can still smell it). Add salt, peppercorns (my brother and I used to have a competition to see who had the most peppercorns: think 'Tinker tailor', Jewish style), and enough stock/water to cover the bird.

Slowly bring to the boil. Skim the fat off the surface ~ it's known as schmaltz, until the liquid is clear. Then cover and simmer very gently until the meat is so tender it falls off the bones.

Add some noodles to the pot and let them soften, just before dividing up the meat, the vegetables, and the lovely broth and placing it all in soup plates. My mother always served ours with thick slices of white bread to mop up the last of the soup.

Ess gezunterheit!


Monday 6 February 2023

The Adventures of L-Plate Bubbe: Screentime

The last time I studied a language, I was 12 years old. I wore a pleated navy skirt, shirt and tie, and sat in a room with 28 other girls. Back then, the biggest problem was always where to sit. The swotty teacher-pleasers positioned themselves at the front, where they could show off their ability and get their hands in the air a micro-second before everyone else had processed the question.

The back row was reserved for the slackers and troublemakers, who passed the time creating their own charisma-free environment while contributing as little as possible to the class. I was the only Jewish girl in a school of 800, at a time where teachers could nickname you 'it', or refer to 'people like you' without being accused of antisemitism.

Therefore, my modus operandi was to maintain as low a profile as I could, which was why I always lurked in the middle of the fourth row, head down, studiously avoiding any eye-contact or engagement.

Beginners' Yiddish is not like this at all.

The first difference is that there is nowhere to lurk. The class consist of 7 students and teacher. We are all visible all the time. It is disconcerting to see oneself on screen, peering confusedly into the ether, as if I have developed an alter ego. The alter ego hasn't a clue what is going on. 

The other students are way ahead of me, some having done previous courses. If you have ever read 'The Education of Hyman Kaplan' by Leo Rosten, I am Mrs Moskovitch. I need a pre-Beginners' Yiddish course.

But this is lesson one, so it is too early to give up, even though I am reminded of all the differentiated worksheets I used to produce as a teacher for what were euphemistically referred to as the 'learning challenged', which is now me. 

I have learned two phrases, however: min nomen ist Carol (my name is Carol) and ich hob zer leeb ketzen, (I really like cats). On this basis, the cat thinks I have made a promising start.