”97 Orchard”: The Gumpertz and Rogarshevsky Families

September 17, 2010 | By | Comments (0)

We meet the Gumpertz and Rogarshevsky families in the next two chapters of 97 Orchard. Both Jewish (the former are from Prussia and the latter from Lithuania), these families have a much different dilemma than the Glockners and the Moores faced. Rather than just longing for the familiar foods of their homelands, their religion dictates the types of food they should (and should not) eat. For Jewish families, maintaining a kosher diet during their travels to America was simply not possible. Many Jewish immigrants arrived at Ellis Island malnourished, only to find that there was still nothing for them to eat. And arriving in such a state meant they were unlikely to pass inspection—and thus be blocked from entering the country.

The descriptions of Ellis Island were particularly interesting to me. I have to admit, I had no idea that 10 percent of immigrants passing through Ellis Island were detained for weeks or even months. Despite many class trips there during elementary school, I don’t recall ever hearing that. Perhaps our tour guide lightened the story for the sake of us fourth graders!

Even as many Jewish immigrants held to their dietary laws, some later broke away from tradition and incorporated “forbidden foods” into their menus. As the book explains, home cooks felt they could decide which traditions to follow and which to adjust or even drop from their routines. (In a semi-related note: I may just have to make the Oyster Noodle Kugel.)

I couldn’t help but wonder how many traditions each of us has dropped or modified for the sake of convenience, cost, or something else? I can share one: Growing up, my family always ate “Spinat und Eier” (spinach and eggs) on Friday nights. It was creamed spinach and boiled or mashed potatoes topped with a fried egg. (This story is in German but check out the picture.) Delicious!

I believe the reason we ate this dish was because we didn’t have meat on Fridays (or maybe just Fridays during Lent?). Given that I can’t really remember why we did this, I’m sure you understand why this custom was eventually dropped! I still make Spinat und Eier now and then as a quick dinner, as do other family members. But by no means do any of us make it every Friday night.

Are there any traditions (food-related or otherwise) that you or your family have dropped over time?

Next Friday: the Baldizzi Family. See you then.


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