JCC Newsletter – Miketz

Jews and Chinese Food: A Love Story

Like the perennial springtime media coverage of the Christian-Arab who purchases the entirety of Israel’s chametz, you can set your watch to end-of-year articles and blogposts decoding the Jewish-American fascination with Chop Suey and General Tzo’s Chicken; a tradition that began in the early 20th century when New York’s then heavily Jewish Lower East Side neighborhood abutted a Chinatown filled with new arrivals from Guangdong Province.

The most accepted opinion centers around the indisputable fact that few, if any other restaurants were open. Chicken Tikka Masala, Pad Thai and Falafel had not yet landed on American shores. For Jewish families with December 25th off of work, Chinese food seemed the only available option. However, this simplistic explanation overlooks larger anthropological shifts.

For an originally Eastern European but fast assimilating American Jew strolling down New York’s Delancey Street in the late 19th century, kosher laws were only half of the equation in choosing where to dine. Stepping foot into an Italian restaurant necessarily involved eating under the watchful eye of the owner’s Lord and Savior (not to be confused with uptown department store Lord and Taylor). The city’s more upscale French and German establishments would turn their noses up at the young immigrant, even if he had the means to pay.

On Christmas or any other day of the year, Chinese food filled the void in the Jewish stomach. Unlike the aforementioned establishments, there was no latent anti-Semitism to contend with. The experience came to be described as ‘Safe Treyf’ since non-kosher ingredients were often tucked away in an egg roll or dumpling and dairy was nowhere to be found. So widespread was the Jewish people’s obsession with Chinese food that an 1899 article in The American Hebrew took Jews to task for eating at non-kosher restaurants, singling out Chinese food.

Thankfully, with the establishment of Bernstein-on-Essex in 1957 the kosher consumer could finally chow down on Chow Mein guilt-free. Decades later, Chinese food lost its lofty perch as the preferred cuisine of American Jews only to be supplanted by regional rival Japan in the form of Sushi. But at least once a year in blustery late-December, Jews pay homage to the Middle Kingdom by sitting down for a feast of Sesame Chicken, Beef and Broccoli or preferably both, polished off with a fortune cookie at the end.


Kabbalat Shabbat
Friday, December 23rd
Services: 6:00pm
Dinner with reservation: 7:00pm

Shabbat Parshat Miketz/Rosh Chodesh Tevet/6th Day of Hanukkah
Three Torah Take-Out!
Hanukkah Leftovers Kiddush Sponsored by the JCC
Saturday, December 24th
Services: 10:00am
Kiddush: 12:00pm

Family Shabbat
Friday, January 13th
Services: 6:00pm
Dinner with reservation: 7:00pm

Shabbat Parshat Shemot
Kiddush sponsored by the Sitbon Family in commemoration
Saturday, January 14th
Services: 10:00am
Kiddush: 12:00pm

Kabbalat Shabbat
Friday, January 20th
Services: 6:00pm
Dinner with reservation: 7:00pm

Kabbalat Shabbat
Friday, January 27th
Services: 6:00pm
Dinner with reservation: 7:00pm

Shabbat Parshat Bo
Kiddush Open for Sponsorship
Saturday, January 28th
Services: 10:00am
Kiddush: 12:00pm


An Evening with Ambassador Gilad Cohen of the Israeli Embassy
Thursday, February 16th
Time: TBD

Lots more in the works for 2023. Stay tuned!

If you have an idea for an event or a topic you would like to share with others, please visit our website. https://jccjapan.jp/event-committee-inquiry/


Sunday’s Hanukkah party exceeded all expectations. From 8 months to 88 years young (Happy Birthday David Caplan!), fun was had by all including somewhere between 120-150 people who passed through our doors. We were honored by the presence of Ambassador Rahm Emanuel and Amy Rule in addition to diplomatic representation by Marina Stamou of the Greek Embassy who helped us bury the Hanukkah hatchet.

Thank you to Arron Besant and Hotaka Matsui for sponsoring, Marsha Rosenberg, Sherry Greenfield and the Events Committee for planning the festivities, Ozawa-san and Izaki-san for cooking and baking up the most delicious latkes and sufganiyot this side of the Yamanote Line and Tal and Ayako-san in the office for arranging everything. We reserve an extra debt of gratitude to Sophie Leviton and Aria Laxer for running the face painting station and one of the JCC’s newest members, the Rivkin family, for capturing the event on photo and video.

Wednesday night’s JIFA Hanukkah party was also excellent. Thank you to Izumi Sato for helping ensure the bridge between the JCC and JIFA remains stronger than ever.

Koshihikari from Niigata-ken? La France Pears from Yamagata-ken? Mangoes from Miyazaki-ken? While you may have run out of time to use the One-Stop-System, Furusato Nozei is still very much a possibility. Go ahead and order some local delicacies while helping a rapidly depopulating area of Japan that can desperately use your Residence Tax. We will try to get a minyan together at the Tax Office from 2/16-3/15 while claiming our deductions.

The JCC, and the weekly newsletter, will be on intersession from Sunday, December 25th – Monday, January 9th. May your flights arrive on time, beaches uncrowded, ski lifts without lines and onsen just the right temperature.

Yiddish Club with Jack Halpern: Meetings have started monthly in-person at the JCJ. Please contact Jack at jack@cjki.org if you are interested to join. All levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced. Much more than just language, the club enjoys exploring Yiddish culture as well.

Apropos the above, the Yiddish translation of מיר ווינשען אלע אידען א פרייליכען נייעס יאהר in this week’s image is “We wish everyone a happy new year.”

Shabbat Parshat Miketz
Candle Lighting: 4:14pm
Havdala: 5:15pm