#GivingDecember special: The (Non-Jewish) Black Person’s Guide to Surviving Hannukah

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#GivingDecember is traditionally for non-profits, but it’s a time when the little guy like me has to make a plea too.

Let me share an email with you I just received today:

“​Mr.​T​witty my name is Malik and I would like to know if you can come to my school and teach use how to cook and about African American history ​of​ cooking​. ​Mr.Twitty I am happy that I am about to meet you and l wonder if you can also teach us about being Jewish. PS We are starting a World Religion study next week.

​Good morning Michael,

I greatly enjoyed and was inspired by your workshops and keynote at the CFSA conference in Durham in November. You mentioned that you might soon be in North Charleston. I hope I haven’t missed you already. As you may recall I work at a school for students with behavioral needs and also a great need to connect with the strengths of their history.

The above note is from just one of the many students that would benefit from your straightforward discussion of the history they should be reveling in but are separated from.

Please come share your courage with my students!

I get emails like these all the time from inspired teachers and students. 2-3 times a year we depend on you to fill in the gaps. Great opportunities come up and your donations make it easier to go to schools and communities that otherwise don’t have a budget to bring me out. Sometimes a book is on the market that’s absolutely key to my work. Other times we just need money for copies, postage and other basic office needs. Your donations make it easier to make ends meet and keep moving forward. The Cooking Gene has taken everything I’ve got—all of this to uncover a heritage that was essentially stolen from us over three centuries. And yet I know I am a victor, not a victim. I’m a warrior.

So many of you enjoy what I do here and I enjoy sharing information, recipes and thoughts about the state of the world—from food to racial justice to spirituality to humor. This gives me great pleasure to help make the world a better place. I don’t throw a ball, I don’t sing, I don’t take pictures that earn millions of dollars, I just do the tough work of tikkun olam, and I don’t ask much in return. I appreciate any and all help you can give this #GivingDecember . 5$ buys 50 copies. Even 5$ is a huge contribution to the efforts I am trying to make to not only educate us about the African cultural contribution to American and global foodways but to inspire people of color to gain empowerment through food and push our progress forward as a people. I want this discussion over food to unite people of different phenotypes and heal the current “racial” divides that plague us. See the golden “donate” button, please go to our PayPal and give what you can. Please help me continue to do this sacred work. On to the edutainment of the day:

The (Non-Jewish) Black Person’s Guide to Surviving Hannukah (And Most other Jewish Holidays)

Humor and Satire Trigger Warning

Disclaimer: Written by a member of the Chocolate Chosen (yes there are many Jews who are of color, of African descent or who self-identify as Black or African American) so don’t get it twisted, or as we say in Yiddish, ton nit bakumen es tvisted…Not all Jews are white, many going back to the beginning of Judaism were certainly not, but all colors of the rainbow. So no mutual exclusivity here. Now on to the fun:

This is a great time to see how the other half celebrates. For African American folk who are not Jewish—see above—one of the most interesting things you can do is visit a Jewish family on a Jewish holiday, in this case we are only a few days away from the celebration of Hannukah. If you want to know more about Hannukah see my blog or see these resources. Know before you go! Hannukah is really a delightful holiday and even though it is not my favorite—that would be Passover and Simchat Torah—its message is really beautiful and simple—we can overcome the absence of light by bringing more in and keeping the flame of love and tradition burning. That having been said—you need to do your homework before you experience Hannukah American style.

1. A lot of Jewish ritual stuff takes place in the home because the home is the Mikdash Me’at (a little Temple)—okay its only rule number one and already I got you spitting. Rule #1 is actually buy tissues and an umbrella—both are necessary for speaking Hebrew as a first timer.

2. Gifts: You’re probably a little worried about what to bring to a Hannukah gathering. You’re pretty good as long as you don’t bring gel rings—they are the fruitcake of Jewish holidays—but a lot less practical. Fruitcake you can use in an architectural way or as a fire retardant. Gel rings—well I can think of a few uses but they wouldn’t be very g-rated or modest so let’s just move on.

3. Gelt—when Jews offer you “gelt” its not that thing they offer their children when they don’t call home enough or put mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich, gelt is actually those delightful chocolate coins you probably already buy every December but never knew what they were for. They are a much more acceptable gift than gel rings—see above.

4. Kugel—Kugel tastes a lot better than it sounds. Kugel is like the Jewish macaroni and cheese only it is not but it is, but…look it has raisins in it. Don’t get alarmed the cheese is not of “gubmint” origin—you will have to explain that to your hosts unless of course they are the Chocolate Chosen, its usually cottage cheese, cream cheese, etc. mixed with egg noodles, sugar, and cinnamon. Try it, you’ll like it, its nourishml.

5. Gefilte Fish—there is no good reason to serve gefilte fish during Hannukah unless there is a dare going on. Gefilte Fish is the Jewish equivalent of chitlins in terms of “Keeping it 100%” I guess I’m really not Black or Jewish because I don’t like either lol. They both show a big commonality in Jewish and Black food—people took would they had and made it work—for someone—not necessarily me.

6. Candles—whether they are Shabbat candles or candles in the hannukiyah—it’s not really a menorah like they taught you in second grade—just let them burn—they got this—don’t blow them out. That gets really awkward.

7. Jewish people start the meal with a short prayer that seems very rushed and quick. No diss. Don’t worry—the long winded, fall asleep in your plate prayer that usually takes place in Black households before the meal takes place after the meal when you have ITIS.

8. Please explain to your Jewish hosts who are not Chocolate Chosen that ITIS is not a Black terrorist group they should be concerned about but rather a food induced sleeping coma.

9. Latkes sound like that dude on “Taxi,” for the old school folk, but they have nothing to do with him. Again they sound worse than they taste. They actually taste pretty dang good. Translation of Latke—“hash brown.” No, I’m serious, they’re just hash browns that had a bris.

10. Don’t ask what a bris is. Someone will choke on their latke.

11. Schvartzeh is the attack word. You probably won’t hear it because its really not appropriate but just remember what Uncle John taught you—“Know the word for Black in every language.”

12. Bubbie guide—Bubbie is Yiddish for (Nana/Big Mama/Grammy/Grammah/M’Dear) Bubbies come in various flavors:

a. Stay away from Old School Bubbie—you will know her by the fact the word “colored” may come out of her mouth inadvertently. The rose perfume is a dead giveaway. She’s the lady at the shul I visited that thought I was the coat boy. She’s a dying breed so don’t be too concerned.

b. Matchmaker Bubbie is really nice but she’s probably going to set you up with her zaftig granddaughter. She’s done her homework about Black men. Beware there may be a rabbi and a mohel awaiting in the shadows to perform an expedient conversion. Don’t drink anything she gives you.

c. Matchmaker Bubbie’s pal is Rainbow Bubbie. If you’re LGBT and you’re going over your partner’s family’s house for the first time, she’s your best friend and she will smother you like Sunday chicken in gravy or stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce. She’s the old Jewish lady all the gays love, and she will do selfies with you two, talk about her PFLAG membership and talk about how she wishes a kayn-a-hora on Kim Davis. And no that’s not a character from Orange is the New Black.  She has the same color scheme in her makeup and attire as a Siamese Fighting Fish.

d. Hip Bubbie is probably my favorite. She’s retired but works more now than she ever did when she was working. She docents, is a theater usher just to see the newest philosophical plays, does tai chi, and can salsa dance. She only has one flaw—she once thought Sean Puffy Combs was named “Cohen,” “What Jewish woman names her son, “Puffy?” (Nope not a joke that actually happened…I choked on my latke.)

e. Yiddishe Mama Bubbie is the one who never leaves the kitchen and never actually eats. Of her the Yiddish saying that “a Grandmother needs wheels,” is most appropriate. She will be the most familiar to you because her and Black Grandma are kissing cousins. She’s going to feed you to capacity and watch over you to make sure everything goes down okay.

13. Avoid the celery soda. You won’t like it. You will find it hard to hide the “What the hell is this?” look.

14. Although you may be tempted to do so, evaluate the Black Jewish guest if you are not already in a Chocolate Chosen environment. They are so busy trying to stay Black and prove they got this Jewish thing down that they can be thoroughly annoying.

15. Black child rearing and Jewish child rearing aren’t quite the same. Jewish children are to be both seen and heard. This takes some getting used to. You will see a number of offenses committed that would not be lawful in a Black household, but remember, when in Rome.

16. Mitzi, the poodle will try to kiss you in the mouth. Tell her “Nisht git,” and remind her Black people don’t do that.

17. Master Hebrew expressions and Blessings before you get there. You will be a Boss.

18. Much of Hannukah food is deep fried. If from Down South you will feel right at home—Jewish homes on Hannukah smell like like Black homes on Sunday afternoon. There’s even an ancient Jewish fried chicken recipe.

19. If you’re eating with a Rabbi you will notice something delightfully interesting. Every rabbi is a comedian in the same way every Black comedian is a preacher.

20. Be prepared for the list of Jewish Nobel Prize winners given by Uncle Saul.  Control your eye roll.

21. Just like Uncle James will ask every white guest about white stuff—be prepared to be the ambassador of your people when Uncle Saul asks you about Black stuff—just make sure your host acts as a buffer.

22. Josh, Sarah, Melissa or David will ask you if you know how to duggie or know how to ride the quan…its not their fault…it’s a bar/bat mitzvah thing. Apart from the obligatory hora and chair dance—most b’nai mitzvoth in America are essentially the largest gatherings of white people doing Black dances in America. They will take a selfies with you to prove their coolness and show Mr. Twitty that other Black people other than him have been to their house.

23. Inevitably someone will claim to have participated in a Civil Rights march, protests, demonstration, voting drive. 2/3 of the time this will be the truth.

24. Do not participate in any Mah Jong (Mah zhong) games. This is the Jewish old lady equivalent of bid whist and spades. You will not win. They will hustle you naked. Stay away.

25. Blacks and Jews love to talk about food while they eat, that will pretty much be half of the dinner conversation.

26. Blacks and Jews are also the only peoples I know who use food to talk about their past while they eat it. Back in the Old Country= Back Down South…

27. You might get matzoh ball soup—relax—the rest of the matzoh was sustainably used in other dishes.

28. Gribenes=cracklins or pork rinds only its chicken skin.

29. Just like Black people have pictures of African kings and queens and such on their walls many (Ashkenazi) Jews have pictures of old Hasidic rabbis and scenes from old Eastern Europe. That’s about where the deep connection stops.

30. Guide to most Jewish meat—its chicken—that’s all you really need to know. If its not, its brisket—you know brisket..

31. If you get to go to a synagogue service, the Rabbi doesn’t need your “mmms” and “Amens” “Yes, Rabbi tell it!” and other call and response. Control yourself.

32. Dreidel is essentially a gambling game, don’t hustle the kids of all their gelt. I know you watched the fourth season of The Wire, but…

33. Bring your hot sauce and various condiments but don’t let anybody see them—Ashkenazi Jewish food is not known for its vibrant seasoning. If you are in a Sephardi household this will be unncessary—in fact you will encounter hot peppers, okra, black eyed peas and all sorts of familiar stuff.

34. Jelly doughnuts during Hannukah are the stuff. Eat as many as Bubbie will allow. Challah is also the bomb. Babka is good too—go for the chocolate rather than cinnamon.

35. Jewish loud and Black loud ain’t the same loud, you will see what I mean.

36. There are lots of pretty songs associated with Hannukah that you never get to hear at the store and a lot of nice songs sung around the table. It’s okay to hum and sing the chorus if you catch it. Singing and clapping around the table is like the best part of the meal for me after the chicken.

Have a Happy (first) Hannukah!

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About michaelwtwitty

I am a Judaics teacher and Culinary Historian focusing on the foodways of Africa, enslaved African Americans, African America and the African and Jewish diasporas.
This entry was posted in Cultural Politics, Jewish Stuff, Pop Culture and Pop Food and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to #GivingDecember special: The (Non-Jewish) Black Person’s Guide to Surviving Hannukah

  1. Shira says:

    this is AMAZE. Thanks for writing it!!

  2. A. Soroka says:

    “Ashkenazi Jewish food is not known for its vibrant seasoning.”

    Well, I can’t argue with you about food history and ways– you know a lot more about that than do I. But as a Jew with entirely Ashkenazi heritage, I like to think that we have something to offer in the way of seasoning. Amongst black pepper, seeds like fennel and coriander, green herbs like basil and dill, “exotics” like ginger and nutmeg, and particularly, paprika, I think there’s some zing in most of the “trad” dishes I make, and without using anything that might not have been used by my great-grands in the old country. But maybe I’m a weirdo!

  3. I think Hip Bubbie is the norm at my shul, but we only have one or two who can still salsa without breaking a hip.

  4. Maybe it’s just me but if you can get by the appearance Gefilte Fish isn’t bad at all.

  5. Beth Levine says:

    I love you. There, I’ve said it. But don’t dis the gefilte fish. Yes, the stuff in the jar is diz-gusting but have you had homemade?

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