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