A Celebration of our Jewish Foods and Traditions

Hugs and Knishes invites viewers Jewish and non-Jewish alike around the table for great stories and recipes, from the youngest children learning how to participate in the Passover seder to the great American Yiddish theater actor, Fyvush Finkel (beloved for his Emmy-winning work on “Picket Fences”).  While Finkel, actress Tovah Feldshuh (“The Walking Dead,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch are the most recognizable faces getting nostalgic over memories of both literal and figurative schmaltz, it is in the moments like the interaction of elementary school-age children at a senior center’s intergenerational baking event or the sisters recalling a grandmother’s approval of their holiday efforts that the program underlines what is at its core – food as a link to the past and a hope for the future to maintain tradition when all else may be abandoned. As a young boy interviewed during DOROT’s “Bubbe’s Bakery” hamentashen event laments, “If we don’t know these things like how to make food… they’ll get lost.”

Throughout the program, writer/producer/editor /cameraman David Anton -- whose family heritage

includes three generations of (Antosofsky) cantors and rabbis -- uses cultural snippets of

home life, holiday gatherings, and history together like the ingredients of a favorite

grandmother’s Shabbat chicken soup. Like that weekly delicacy prepared in homes around

the world, these pieces mixed together reflect a community’s collective memories and

perhaps spark new ones as recipes are prepared step-by-step on screen.   

Hugs and Knishes celebrates the role of food in a family’s history. Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch

talks about his mother’s use of chicken neck meat as a cure for a cold and how rendered chicken

fat cured even the worst cook’s mistakes; a young family prepares cholent, a traditional

Jewish stew for the Friday Shabbat meal; a grandfather takes pride in his grandchildren’s

delight in his year-round preparation of matzoh brei; sisters reminisce over the memory

of kreplach stuffed with chopped liver – and many more mouth-watering moments.

While the focus of Hugs and Knishes is of course food, when there is talk of Jewish

culture and tradition there is usually song, and Finkel and Feldshuh don’t disappoint,

sprinkling their interviews with the Yiddish melodies of their childhoods. As Finkel

recalls, food was even the inspiration for song and comedy in the great Second Avenue

tradition of New York’s Lower East Side.

In the end, the film demonstrates that no matter what kind of Jewish life an individual chooses to live, the generational continuity of kasha varniskes, stuffed cabbage, gefilte fish, knishes and the like are one way, as Feldshuh says, to alleviate a culture’s “fear of disappearing.” And if, as Feldshuh comments, modern dietary trends mean we “don’t have to eat half the challah” to appease the classic doting Jewish mother. Hugs and Knishes celebrates what those holiday tastes still mean for a family’s third or fourth generation in America.