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Keeping Kosher* in Carolina
Jack L. Bloom, b. 1920, Washington D.C. We grew up eating southern food, turnip greens, mustard greens. I never liked okra, but my brother loves okra. We never ate collards because that was déclassé, but I don’t think I could eat pork of any kind. I never have consciously.
Rosa From Poliakoff, b. 1914, Union, S.C., d. 1999, Abbeville, S.C. I’d go somewhere and they’d say, “Oh, this shrimp is—have some shrimp, it’s just wonderful.” And I’ve never eaten it and I don’t care about it. You know, there were certain things we just didn’t eat.
Saul Krawcheck, b. 1926, Charleston, S.C. Our home was kosher, presided over by a colored woman named Agnes Jenkins, who came from the country and only had one job in her life and that was being my mother’s cook. And Agnes could cook in both styles, and so the food at 3 Colonial Street was phenomenal, but you never knew what you were going to get. How about deviled fish in a crab shell? The most delicious dish you ever tasted in your life. I wish I had the damn recipe.
Sandra Garfinkel Shapiro, b. 1935, Charleston, S.C. Louisa would come in the morning and prepare breakfast. We would have biscuits, and every morning I’d have a g’kochene eyer [cooked egg] lox, scrambled eggs and lox—that’s what I’d have every morning, with grits. You’d say it’s Southern-Yiddish.
Dorothy (“Dutch”) Gelson Cohen, b. 1919, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. My mother kept kosher, but in all honesty if something went awry, she didn’t fall apart. My mother was very sincere, but that was not her priority in life. She wanted to keep kosher ’cause she should, but she had to rear three children, so when the dishes, if they got, we mixed something up, she didn’t fall apart.
Morris David Rosen, b. 1919, Charleston, S.C. But Momma wouldn’t eat out either, I mean wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t kosher out. It wasn’t until late in life we finally got her to eat shrimp.
Joan Steinberg Loeb, b. 1918, Brooklyn, N.Y Chicken fat and eggs. They all had coronary problems, they did.
Ella Levenson Schlosburg, b. 1920, Bishopville, S.C. My father stayed in the South. He acclimated himself well. He got along with everybody. If he went to your house—he was raised in a kosher home—if he went to your house and they served him ham, he ate the ham and didn’t, you know, didn’t say anything. There was always the story: he first started taking Sam out on the truck with him, and they would go to the farmer’s house early in the morning before the farmers went to the field. They were selling cows and horses and mules, and they were trading, and always when you went into a farmer’s house, “Come to breakfast. Come in and eat breakfast with us.” He went in and they were passing around big platters of grits and this, that, and the other, and Sam—Daddy was putting on his plate—and Sam got a mouthful of something. And he said, “Daddy, Daddy, what’s this?” Well, he had a mouthful of fatback,** and he didn’t know what it was. My daddy turned to him and said, “Chew it and swallow.”
Joan Steinberg Loeb, b. 1918, Brooklyn, N.Y. And I said to her that Mattie wanted me to keep kosher because he wanted her to be able to come to our house. I said, “Now if you will do that, I will keep kosher, but if you’re not going to come to eat in our house anyway, there’s no reason for me to keep kosher, and I don’t know anything about it.” She said, “I will teach you how to keep kosher, and if you keep kosher the way I teach you, I will come and eat in your house.” And she said, then she laughed, she said, “Remember, if you cheat, the sin is on you, not on me.”
Sam Liberman, b. 1926, Charleston, S.C. One day I’m going through the line and I can’t believe what I see. I see a sandwich that has pastrami in it, or what I thought was pastrami. So, I paid my nickel for the sandwich, and I couldn’t contain my joy. As I bit into the sandwich, I just realized it wasn’t corned beef; it was ham. And I spit that sandwich out, the contents from my mouth. I threw the sandwich away, then I ran home. I was terrified that God would strike me dead. And around two or three o’clock, which was my normal time, I guess three o’clock, to go to heder*** on George Street, I didn’t want to go. I guess it was either suffer the consequences of God’s wrath or my mother’s wrath—and I took my chances with God.
Rosa From Poliakoff, b. 1914, Union, S.C., d. 1999, Abbeville, S.C. My college is about ten miles from Atlanta. My husband’s sister was my roommate, Eva, and Eva was determined to keep Passover,1 too, and the girls on our hall thought we were absolutely crazy. We had a little hot plate at the end of the hall. I don’t know what we fixed for breakfast. I think we must have boiled eggs. It was crazy—that’s the longest week, those were the longest weeks I ever lived. It was crazy. But you know, that part is not so important, but that was the parents’ way of making the children realize, you have a different heritage and you should be proud of it. And try to be who you are and don’t hide it—be proud of it.
*Ritually fit for use; especially food that conforms to Jewish dietary laws.
**The strip of fat from the back of a hog, usually cured by salting and drying, and used for seasoning.
***A school for teaching the basics of the Hebrew language and Jewish religious observance.
1The festival commemorating the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt nearly 3,300 years ago.