YIDDISHER TA’AM by Rabbi Zell
Not all that long ago, I was explaining the difference between “Kosher” and “Jewish” to a non-Jewish neighbor. Kosher is defined by the dictates of our religion; Jewish is defined by the tastes of our ethnicity. One can therefore eat a dinner that is one hundred percent kosher but has no “Jewish taste”. Alternately, one can eat a dinner that is totally treif but tastes exactly the way Bubbie used to prepare it. Because of this, there exists the term Yiddisher Ta’am or Jewish flavor
Yiddisher Ta’am extends far beyond the palate. It encompasses invitations; it includes weddings and Bar/Mitzvah receptions. Many years ago, Shirah and I received a Shannah Tovah card that was devoid of a Yiddisher Ta’am from a rabbi of national acclaim. To say that I was irate, would be an understatement.
Pandemic aside, I should like to suggest, nay urge, strongly recommend a Yiddisher Ta’am for Thanksgiving dinner, regardless of the fixings, trimmings, and side dishes. Thanksgiving dinner at a Jewish household – especially at a Jewish household, given the history of our people – ought, to begin with, a D’var Torah. Let us whet our appetites as Jews, by hearing and hopefully digesting a teaching from our tradition, that is in the best of tastes for the fourth Thursday in November. With the Torah portion of Jacob experiencing a dream where angels ascend and descend a ladder to heaven, one would do well to recall what Jacob vowed not long after waking: “If G-d grants me bread to eat and clothing to wear…” We would do well to recall that there were periods of time in our past when our people did not always have bread to eat. Many might not realize that food rationing was commonplace in the formative years of Israel’s independence. Alternately, we ought to appreciate how infinitely easier it is to keep a kosher home in this country in the here and now, than say, a century ago.
While my interest in food preparation is nil, Thanksgiving would not be complete without annual ideas and recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers. Rarely if ever, does it occur that the platter is licked clean at Thanksgiving. Those of us steeped in our Eastern European heritage, particularly those of us with knowledge of Hassidism, are well aware of shirayim, uneaten morsels of food from the Rebbe’s plate, distributed to his faithful adherents. Government rules and regulations prohibit us from donating shirayim and leftovers to the homeless. But rather than shirayim and leftovers, Thanksgiving with a Yiddisher Ta’am would be one where we have arranged for holiday meals to be served to the homeless? When was the last time we volunteered to feed Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless before we sat down to our own sumptuous se’udah for Thanksgiving? When reciting Birkat HaMazon or Grace after Meals, we refer to G-d as feeding all. Rather than debate the veracity of that statement, perhaps we should take it upon ourselves to at least feed a few.
Having mentioned Birkat Hamazon, many may not realize that toward the conclusion of the prayer, there are a number of induvial petitions or requests. Each one begins with the appellation HaRachaman or the All-Merciful. While the majority of petitions or requests are to be inserted for special days such as Shabbat or a Festival, others can be inserted for special settings. For example, one may ask that the All-Merciful bestow blessings on the host or hostess. Conversely, the host or hostess may ask the All-Merciful to bestow blessings upon all assembled guests. Thanksgiving presents itself as an ideal opportunity for creativity. While there are those who will beseech HaRachaman to bestow blessings on these United States, others might find it appropriate to ask HaRachaman to bless those in the food industry, whether they be out on the farm or in the food processing plants. Should one be unable to include such a request in Hebrew, I am confident that HaShem understands English, along with all other languages.
If not this year, let us look forward to Thanksgiving dinners of future years, together with family and friends. Let those dinners be garnished with a D’var Torah. Let those dinners be embellished with the knowledge that we have made it possible for the less fortunate to also partake of a Thanksgiving dinner. Let those Thanksgiving dinners be adorned with a heartfelt, request to HaRachaman that He bestow blessings reflecting the spirit of a most special day. What a perfect recipe for a Thanksgiving with a Yiddisher Ta’am!