“'Draydel Salad': The Serious Business of Jewish Food and Fun in Postwar America”
In the 1950s, the American Jewish publishing house Ktav embarked on a quest to capture the hearts and minds of Jewish children, fearing that unless educators and parents made Jewish children’s education entertaining, the young baby boomers would rapidly lose interest in their religious and cultural heritage. Highlighting postwar Jews’ anxieties about the future of their religion and culture, Ktav’s 1956 Junior Jewish Cook Book by Aunt Fanny taught children to enact social identities that vacillated uneasily between the markedly Jewish, the modern American, and a self-consciously diverting blend of the two. While cookbooks designed for Jewish American children abound today, Junior Jewish Cook Book is the earliest example of this genre. The slim, 64-page volume aimed to synthesize children’s bifurcated American and Jewish identities through the palpable and playful medium of food. Playfulness, and the intimate but ephemeral nature of food, also served to sugarcoat the cookbook’s cultural instruction.
Using a children’s cookbook format, a popular and distinctly American form of entertainment, Ktav aimed to compensate for parents’ perceived failure to impart Jewish knowledge and norms to their progeny. Definitely Jewish but not “too Jewish” so as not to repel Jewish suburbanites eager to assimilate to mainstream America, Junior Jewish Cook Book encouraged its young readers to participate in normative American culinary practices by purchasing canned and packaged goods, using modern kitchen implements, and arranging food in fanciful forms according to current mainstream tastes, but to do so in service of Jewish traditions. By tying contemporary American foodways to a Jewish practice, Junior Jewish Cook Book employed American culture in the service of Judaism, teaching children to prepare, eat, and play with food in a seemingly lighthearted negotiation between warring concerns at the heart of a community.
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