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The Classic Kiddush Trio

How schnapps, herring, and bowtie cookies became standard fare in shul—and why they’re making a comeback

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Over the last few decades, the Saturday-morning kiddush has continued to broaden and evolve along with the American Jewish community. It often features classics like egg salad, pickles, lox, and more recently hummus. But the real beauty of the “modern” kiddush lies in its potential for variety. The little tweaks and personal additions—which tend to get discouraged in other parts of organized Jewish life—make all the difference and serve as a window into a congregation’s personality. My upscale-hippie congregation’s Veggie Booty and Camembert cheese, for example, might be matched by a Reform temple’s mini muffins and Israeli salad, or an Orthodox congregation’s cholent and potato kugel. Some congregations also host “kiddush clubs,” semi-clandestine gatherings held during standard kiddush time (or sometimes during the service itself, usually to the rabbi’s annoyance) where people, typically men, schmooze over that single-malt scotch Lieberman wrote about.

And thanks to today’s wave of hipster-fueled interest in previous generations’ food and customs, herring is making a comeback among younger communities as well. A 2011 New York Times article attested to the briny fish’s comeback among the artisanal food crowd. Meanwhile, at a recent kiddush at my minyan, I couldn’t help but notice the gusto with which my fellow Brooklynites attacked the herring—and more interestingly, discussed the fact that they were eating herring and liking it.

Kichel has not fared as well, an unfortunate casualty of changing tastes and expanding alternatives. Though maybe it’s only a matter of time before its potential is rediscovered. (Perhaps the recipe included here will help.)

No matter what’s on the menu, kiddush serves the same essential function today that it did a hundred years ago: to be a moment of social connection. As my mother, a longtime kiddush organizer, told me: “A bunch of us parents would drop you kids off at Hebrew school and then head into the synagogue’s kitchen and start pouring grape juice and slicing cake. We would laugh and share stories—most weeks, it was the best thing about going to shul.”

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He’ll no. I’m 71 years old, grew up in Brooklyn & when I attended morning minyan with my grandfather, the herring was neither “pickled” nor “filleted” (chunks of schmaltz herring loaded with bones)!

Kichel comes in sugared and un-sugared (but often still sweet) varieties, for those who find sugar and herring incompatible.

If the schnapps didn’t BURN on the way down, it wasn’t good schnapps! LOL

Thanks for sharing your memories! Schmaltz herring is also preserved – so it would’ve served the same purpose as the stuff served in vinegar brine.

gwhepner says:

SINGLE MALTS AND HERRING

The
taste of pickled herring that’s washed down with schnapps

is
one that Jews for many years have relished

on
Shabbos mornings, although nowadays perhaps

most
Yidden are insisting Kiddush be embellished

by
single malts, the form of schnapps that
they consider

vital.
During the haftarah a small dose of

a
single malt, although not mentioned in the siddur,

is
what they have to have before they daven musaf.

After
musaf the they indulge in further doses

of
this elixir, herring, either schmaltz or matyes,

and,
satisfied that they’ve fulfilled the law of Moses,

have
more at home, served by their rebbetsin or duchess.

gwhepner@yahoo.com

Very interesting article. Did I miss something, though? I was hoping for a recipe, especially when the article said, “(Perhaps the recipe included here will help.)” However, nothing jumped out at me as a link to a recipe.

Thanks! Recipe is on the top left, under the main image. Click on the picture of kichel. :)

click on the picture for the recipe

Danp359 says:

Does Gil Marks bother to look at other Ashkenazi Jewish communities around the world to substantiate the idiotic and ignorant statement that eating herring, kichels and whisky at kiddush is an American invention?

Great article, as always, Leah. I am surprised herring with bones would have been served, as this raises the halakhic issue of borer (the prohibition on picking bones out of fish led to the rise of gefilte fish as a shabbos delicacy). Certainly, schnapps is ubiquitous across the kiddush scene, whether it be a simple parve kiddush of herring, crackers (I am especially fond of herring and tam-tam’s), and cake, or a fleishig (chulent and kugel) or milchig (bagels, cream cheese, appetizing) variation thereof.

In Montreal, Canada, the Kiddushes of my youth in the late 40s-early 50s also had whiskey and ‘eyer kichel’ , usually unsugared and round, indented, like a cereal bowl, upon which some men would place their herring.
With greater affluence, Kiddush menus grew, so that now many synagogues serve egg salad, chicken wings, kugels, liver, egg rolls, and much else.
I am sure some people come to shul mainly for the Kiddush– a boon to old people and singles, who may not have a serious meal at home.

Bramps says:

I look forward to Shabbos morning kiddush. No reason to rush home. It’s a time for schmooze and food. I had the best haimishe cholent is shul this past Shabbos. Just like bubbe use to make. Catered by Fumio Grill and Sushi in NJ.

themotherinlawskitchen says:

This is a really interesting read, thank you Leah.

Nostalgia for Jewish food? Is that the best she can do?

If you want to reminisce, consider that there were shuls which served Canadian Club and shuls that Served Seagram’s VO – both mild canadian whiskies of moderate but respectable pricing.

And the two didn’t mix. And heaven forbid if the shamas bought the wrong whisky

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The Classic Kiddush Trio

How schnapps, herring, and bowtie cookies became standard fare in shul—and why they’re making a comeback

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