The Yiddishe Mama Roadshow: Foodways and the secular Jew

Felicity Newman, PhD candidate, School of MCC, Division of SSHE

Pub Talk

Thursdays at the Fremantle Hotel, corner Cliff & High Streets
Presentations start 6.30pm sharp.

24 October 2002


Foodways are increasingly recognised as fundamental modes of cultural identification amongst diasporic communities. Within Jewish communities these understandings are complicated by Kashruth, the complex web of dietary practices required in order to 'keep kosher' and thus be considered 'observant'.

Jewish foodways need also to be understood in the light of Jewish families and therefore, Jewish mothers. The Yiddishe mama has been caricatured either as an angelic, long suffering, brown-eyed über-nurterer or an overbearing, obsessive, force-feeding machine. These representations are of course, opposite sides of the same coin; but certainly diasporic life has taught Jewish mothers to adapt their show to life on the road.

The role that Jewish food plays in the lives of non-observant Jews, cannot be understood without further considering the tensions between Jew and Judaism, between cultural, racial and religious identity, between patriarchy and cryptomatriarchy and between observance and transgression. Incorporating interview material and video and film footage, this paper begins the unpacking of the Yiddishe Mama Roadshow.

A Yiddishe Mame (A Jewish Mother)

By J.Y. Polack and J. Yellen

My Yiddishe mama - I miss her more than ever now
My Yiddishe mama - I long to kiss her wrinkled brow
I long to hold her hand once more as in days gone by
And ask her to forgive me for things I did that made her cry
How few were her pleasures
She never cared for fashion styles
Her jewels and her treasures
She found them in her babies’ smiles
Oh I know that I owe all I am today
To that dear little lady who’s old and gray
My wonderful Yiddishe mama
Mamenyu mayn (Dear mama of mine)
Vi shayn vi likhtig iz in hoyz
Ven di mame iz du
Vi troyerik biter vert
Ven got nemt ir oyf olam habo
How beautiful and full of light is the home
When mother is here
How gloomy and bitter it is
When God takes her to the next world.
n vaser in fayer - volt zi gelofen far ir kind
Nit haltn ir tayer, dos volt geven di greste zind
Oy vi gliklakh un raykh iz der mentsh vos hot
Az a sheyner matone geshenkt fun got
Nor an altichke yiddishe mame
Mamenyu mayn

Pub Talk | 2002

New: 26 September, 2002 | Now: 8 May, 2015