7: Recipe, Fania Lewando’s “Poppy Seed Cookies for Tea," 1938, Yiddish with translation.
Litmann was showered with candies when he first arrived at kheyder. Other students, on their first day, were obliged to lick a page of Hebrew text onto which the melamed had poured honey. Still others had a thankfully less messy experience, their mothers baking them lekekh (honey cake) or kikhelekh (cookies) that were formed into the shapes of Hebrew letters. All of these methods of experiential learning had a single purpose: to impress upon the pupils, from a very early age, the sweetness and joy that comes of studying Torah. This recipe for poppy seed cookies ("mon-kikhelekh tsu tey"), such as the mothers in the shtetl might have made, was written by Fania Lewando, who operated a famous vegetarian restaurant in Vilna and would later perish in the Holocaust.
Suggested activity: Bake the (pareve) cookies with your class, forming the dough into the shapes of Hebrew letters (such cookie-cutters can be easily ordered online). While the cookies are baking, you might teach the blessing for Torah learning (in traditional Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation, as would have been used in the khadorim): “Borekh ato adoynoy, eloyheynu meylekh ho-oylom, asher kidshonu bemitsvoysov vetsivonu la-asoyk bedivrey toyro” (Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to engage with the words of the Torah). As you enjoy your treats, think on how delicious it is to learn together, and spare a thought for the boys and girls of those faraway shtetlekh, now lost to time.
Source: Fania Lewando, Vegetarish-dietisher kokhbukh: 400 shpayzn gemakht oysshlislekh fun grinsn (Vegetarian Dietetic Cookbook: 400 Dishes Made Exclusively Out of Vegetables) (Vilna: G. Kleckina, 1938), 150, trans. Eve Jochnowitz, Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (New York: Schocken Books, 2015), 142.