Laura Silver’s ‘Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food’: Upcoming Book Talk and Nosh

By Emma Friedlander

The knish is not a complicated creation. Different variations exist, but at its core, the knish is just filling, usually potato, that is wrapped in baked or fried dough. This simple concept can be found in most food cultures: Spanish empanadas, Indian samosas, and Cornish pasties are all formed around a similar idea, just to name a few. Despite this simplicity, the knish is a staple Jewish comfort food. Much of its significance can be found by exploring the culture surrounding the knish in the Jewish community.

That’s exactly what Laura Silver does in her latest book Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food. Silver was devastated when her beloved go-to knish shop, Mrs. Stahl’s in Brighton Beach, was turned into a Subway sandwich joint in 2006. This loss inspired her to travel three continents searching for the cultural history and significance of the knish.

Silver’s journey took her to Poland, France, Israel, and even San Francisco and St. Paul. But the most important stop in divulging the story of the knish is without a doubt New York City. In New York, Silver spoke with and investigated several of the few knish makers left in the city. These conversations revealed the significance of the knish not just as a food, but as a cultural symbol within Jewish immigrant tradition.

The special thing about the knish was its economic advantages. When asked to describe the knish, most people will say something like “dense” and “loaded with carbs.” And this is exactly why the heavy ball of dough and filling was so important to Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish immigrants. It quickly filled consumers for a very low price, and allowing immigrants to make sure their children didn’t go to bed hungry.

Knishes rose to the height of popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, becoming not only a staple for Jewish eaters on the go but all New Yorkers who needed a quick snack. Today, most New Yorkers are far more likely to grab a bagel or slice of pizza — but Silver strongly believes that the knish is making a comeback. She recently told NPR Weekend Edition that “The knish has entered hipster lingo. I do believe a knish renaissance is about to take hold.”

The Museum at Eldridge Street couldn’t be more excited to host Laura Silver’s book talk for Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food at 7 pm on Tuesday, July 14. We’re especially looking forward to serving all attendees a knish from Yonah Schimmel, the first knishery that opened in New York in 1910.  Sholom Aleichem, I.B. Singer and Gussie Schwebel will all figure in the stories Laura Silver will tell as she relates the fascinating story of this unassuming pastry. You can still get tickets to this event here:

We hope to see you then!

Categories: Blog, Events, Jewish History, Recipes

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