a farewell to shmaltz

Fat, especially chicken fat. Used in place of butter in kosher homes when a meat meal is served. The cracklings left after chicken fat is rendered are gribbenes or greevn. My mother made her own chicken fat and kept it in the refrigerator in a Skippy’s Peanut Butter jar.
    There’s a Romanian-Jewish restaurant on the old Lower East Side, Sammy the Waiter’s, that has one of those glass pitchers other restaurants use for cream or maple syrup, filled with schmaltz on every table. Marvin Hamlisch’s dad used to play accordion at this restaurant. It was during one of his breaks that Zero Mostel stood up and shouted at the top of his lungs, “This food killed more Jews than Hitler!”
    My theory is that although Jews in Eastern Europe were poor, we were fairly certain of two good meals a year; for the new year in the fall and for Passover in the spring. So we invented a cuisine we could taste for six months just to remember.
    Shmaltz and its Americanized adjective, shmaltzy (in Yiddish it would be shmaltzik), also refer to high-cholesterol styles of music and tear-jerking drama.

    —Joel Siegel, Lessons For Dylan: On Life, Love, the Movies, and Me, PublicAffairs, 2004, p. 239.
Zero Mostel’s restaurant review is corroborated by The New Yorker, Volume 50 (1974), p. 84.

European cultures are of three kinds: wine drinkers who cook their food in olive oil; beer drinkers who cook their food in butter; and vodka drinkers who don’t much care for cooking, or food. My lifelong project is to ascend from the last position, to the first.

our 4:20

…certainly beats the Old World version. Then again, we have inherited a bit of that latter in our New World. Founded by Josef Bischof in 1978, the Old World German Restaurant has long hosted periodic celebrations of Hitler’s birthday and conferences of Holocaust revisionists. In 1997 Josef exercised his inalienable rights under the First Amendment thusly: “Aust these no good [Santa Barbara County] supervisors. They deprived me of my property rights! They deserve the Auschwitz treatments.” Here is his daughter putting a spin on it:

He probably would have been better off saying, “The Santa Barbara County Supervisors should be sent to Siberia”—maybe then he wouldn’t have been such a “Bad Guy”. If you know your history, Stalin was just as evil as Hitler, and during WWII, people were deathly afraid of being sent to Siberia. However, the remark about Russia would not have pushed the buttons of so many, nor will Stalin ever be as memorable to the American public because of the significant amount of Jews in this country.

—Cyndie Bischof of Huntington Beach, 20 January 2000, OCWeekly

For my heritage of a GULag survivor, the best part is the mass noun amount used in lieu of numbering Jews.

Unheimlichen Geburtstag, Herr Schicklgruber! I’m taking Bragmardo and my Swiss friends on a stroll in the Old World.

in memoriam

This picture was taken on 5 July 1913. It shows a newlywed Jewish couple, residents of Uman. The man kept books. The woman played a piano. Their daughters were born in 1923 and 1925. The man succumbed to a cardiac arrest in 1938. The woman carried on.

Uman was occupied by the Wehrmacht on 1 August 1941. On Wednesday, 15 August 1945, Oberlieutnant Erwin Bingel recounted the events of 16 September 1941. He was under orders to set up guards on all railways in the area, and around the Uman airport, which contained the town’s Jews, herded on horseback by an armed Ukrainian militia, for a census roll call posted throughout the region. The shooters of Einsatzgruppe C, led by Otto Rasch, holder of two university doctorates in political economy and philosophy, ordered each successive row of Untermenschen to move forward to a row of tables where they had to undress completely and hand over everything they wore and carried. They were made to stand in line in front of the ditches. The Einsatzkommandos then marched in behind the line and mowed it down with submachine guns and Parabellum pistols. Thereupon, the Jewish men in each successive row were ordered to step out and take shovels with which to heap chloride of lime upon the bodies convulsing in the ditch. At last they returned to the tables and undressed to embark on the same last walk.

On the following day, Oberfeldwebel Renner and another man under Bingel’s command were taken to the Lvov field hospital with “complete nervous breakdowns”. In his postwar deposition, Bingel estimated that 24,000 Jews were killed in his sight on that day. This woman and her mother numbered among them.

                Two Formal Elegies

                                                   For the Jews in Europe

Knowing the dead, and how some are disposed:
Subdued under rubble, water, in sand graves.
In clenched cinders not yielding their abused
Bodies and bonds to those whom war’s chance saves
Without the law: we grasp, roughly, the song.
Arrogant acceptance from which song derives
Is bedded with their blood, makes flourish young
Roots in ashes. The wilderness revives,

Deceives with sweetness harshness. Still beneath
Live skin stone breathes, about which fires but play,
Fierce heart that is the iced brain’s to command
To judgment—studied reflex, contained breath—
Their best of worlds since, on the ordained day,
This world went spinning from Jehovah’s hand.


For all that must be gone through, their long death
Documented and safe, we have enough
Witnesses (our world being witness-proof),
The sea flickers, roars, in its wide hearth.
Here, yearly, the pushing midlanders stand
To warm themselves; men brawny with life,
Women who expect life. They relieve
Their thickening bodies, settle on scraped sand.

Is it good to remind them, on a brief screen,
Of what they have witnessed and not seen?
(Deaths of the city that persistently dies…?)
To put up stones ensures some sacrifice,
Sufficient men confer, carry their weight.
(At whose door does the sacrifice stand or start?)

                               —Geoffrey Hill, 1959