A Knish is Just a Knish

By Adam Kraemer

Hey, all! Hope you had a great holiday season. Mine was good.

I spent Christmas Eve at my cousins’ in Cheviot Hills (about five minutes from my apartment). You may be asking yourself, “I thought he was Jewish.” Their dad is my first cousin, once removed, on my dad’s side, but their mom is Catholic. So I was treated to what I assume is a traditional Christmas dinner. Honestly, it bore a striking resemblance to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Though I don’t remember Camryn Manheim showing up at any of my childhood Thanksgivings. (Turns out she’s a friend of the family. My cousin jokingly made the audacious claim that they know all the famous Jewish people in L.A., but had to rescind when I requested an introduction to Scarlett Johansson.)

I believe that’s first degree name-dropping, once removed.

Honestly, there was turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and green beans and apple pie. No pumpkin pie, so I guess that’s technically a variation on Thanksgiving. But what struck me even more was the obvious difference between this traditional dinner and a traditional Jewish dinner. I guess it’s partly due to the difference between Eastern and Western European cuisines, but because of a few extra dietary rules for the Jewish people, we appear to have created a cuisine entirely of our own. And most of it is really bad for you.

For starters, a lot of Jewish food is traditionally made using schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat. Sounds unhealthy? It is! Heck, even when we have a healthy food, like smoked salmon (lox), we eat it with heavy cream cheese on a doughy bagel. Admittedly, this is a fine combination when you’re trying to keep warm on the steppes of Russia or in a shtetl (read: village) outside of Vilnius, but not great when you’re relaxing by the pool in Miami Beach.

I should make a mention of kashrut, or Jewish dietary law. It comes from a number of places (most notably the book of Leviticus), and has a number of rules and regulations, but it can mostly be distilled down into a few overarching guidelines:

1. Don’t mix milk and meat.

b. If it swims in the sea, it needs fins and scales.

iii. If it lives on land, it needs to chew its own cud and have a cloven hoof.

D. If it flies in the air, it needs feathers.

That’s really about it. Admittedly, these laws get parsed pretty heavily (there’s rules, for example, about the usage of milk plates versus meat plates and silverware and refrigerators, etc.), but those are the basics. Ever wonder why not pork or lobster? Now you know.

And it’s not really healthy, as I mentioned. It’s fatty. It’s oily. It’s starchy. Sometimes all three at once — see: latkes (potato pancakes). It’s knishes (flaky potato pastries). It’s blintzes (crepes). It’s kugel (sweet noodle pudding). It’s loaded with carbohydrates (there is no such thing as low-carb matzo). Do you know what a traditional Chanukah food is? Doughnuts. I’m not making that up.

And you know what? It’s all delicious. But mostly really bad for you, at least in regular portions. And who wants to eat an eighth of a bagel? (I saw that. Put your hand down. Liar.) So, from a Weight Watchers perspective, what have we learned? When planning to eat a traditional Jewish meal, it’s a great idea to go to the gym for days beforehand (and after).

Yup, that about covers it.

Talk to you soon.

Read more Weight, Don't Tell Me.