3: Speech excerpt, Bernard Manischewitz’s “America’s Influence on Jewish Cooking,” 1956.
Manischewitz, alongside other Jewish food producers, played an important role in standardizing and popularizing certain Jewish foods in the twentieth century. The B. Manischewitz Company began as a matzo factory in Cincinnati in 1888. Its founder, Behr Manischewitz, developed innovations in the mass production of matzo and promoted square machine-made matzo as more religiously pure than traditional, rounded handmade matzo. Later, the company promoted matzo balls as a year-round Jewish food, not limited to Passover, in order to increase sales of its matzo meal. Bernard Manischewitz, Behr’s grandson, was the last member of the family to preside over what became a kosher food empire. He delivered the speech excerpted here at a symposium convened on the theme, “Jewish Life Reflected in Jewish Foods,” delivered at Hunter College on March 6, 1956.
Suggested Activity: Ask your students what they think Bernard Manischewitz means by “more earthy manifestations of the Jewish soul.” What does this phrase suggest about how Manischewitz thought non-Jews perceived Jews? What role might Manischewitz’s desire to sell his products play in this speech? Do you agree with him that “getting to know a people’s food” can lead to understanding of the group itself?
If you want to talk about the style of food description in this passage, ask your students to think about these phrases: “gently luscious,” “tempting plumpness,” “feathery,” etc. Ask them what kind of feelings and associations those descriptions evoke for them. Are they appealing? Cliché? Silly? Have them compare this excerpt to a contemporary food description from a culinary magazine or restaurant review and ask them to identify ways in which the rhetorical style and the approach is similar or different. How might they themselves describe the sensual pleasures (or lack thereof) of matzo ball soup?
Source: Kerri P. Steinberg, Jewish Mad Men: Advertising and the Design of the American Jewish Experience (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015), 99.