Poland: Bagels, Beer, and a Book


For many travelers, enjoying local food in the places they visit is one of the pleasures of travel. The same is true for Jewish travelers. However, for them, there is a catch. Unless there are kosher eating establishments in the area in which they are traveling that serve kosher versions of the local cuisine, Jewish travelers are denied this longed-for gustatory pleasure–Belgian waffles, French croissants, Italian pizza, Polish pierogies.

Ashkenazic Jewish food has been heavily influenced by Polish food. That’s not surprising. After all, Jews have lived in Poland for over a thousand years. I have often eaten bagels for breakfast, enjoyed sweet kugel as a Sabbath guest, downed a slice of babka with coffee, and passed the chrain at the Seder table. All of these foods came to us via our sojourn in Poland. But what about beer?

Poland is the third largest producer of beer in Europe. Its beer production is exceeded only by that of the UK and Germany. Before our trip to Poland, Beth and I downloaded a copy of The List of Kosher Products Available in Poland. The list was created under the supervision of the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich. Concerning beer, the listing states that non-flavored beer, with no additives, is kosher, parve, and does not require a symbol. Oh, happy day! After due deliberation, I selected three Polish beers to enjoy during our trip: ZywiecTyskie, and Okocim. In all cases, I picked pale lagers. I enjoyed all three beers, but my favorite was Okocim. It is brewed with indigenous Polish hops which produce a pleasant aroma. It is relatively high in alcohol, so you really need just one.

The connection between Poland, beer, and Jews is a long one. Part of that history is recounted in an article published online by Aish titled “Jews and Beer: 8 Surprising Facts” by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller. In the article, Dr. Miller writes “A 1764 census of Polish Jews found that approximately 80% of Jews living in villages worked in the alcohol trade, distilling and selling wine, vodka, liqueurs and beer.”

This brings me to Asher Barash. Barash was born in eastern Galicia in 1889. He emigrated to what in 1914 was then Palestine under the Ottoman Empire. He died in Tel-Aviv Israel in 1952. Born in Galicia, Barash was fluent in Yiddish. Nevertheless, he wrote his classic novel, Pictures from a Brewery, in Hebrew. It tells the story of the rise and fall of the family Aberdam, led by its intelligent, pragmatic, and generous matriarch, Hanna Aberdam. She leases a brewery and in its running employs most of the people in the town where she lives and supports nearly all of the Jews in the surrounding area. I love the book’s opening (translated from the Hebrew by Katie Kaplan):

I shall begin with the story of Mrs. Aberdam–Mrs. Hanna Aberdam–lessee of the brewery in the little town of L. these thirty years or so (which means that she is an old woman by now). The full extent of her warm-hearted personality will not be evident from this story, but it will serve to sketch the environment within which she flourished.

Asher Barash, Pictures from a Brewery.

And that environment was Polish Galicia, the land of Beth’s mother’s ancestors and the place where I enjoyed three Polish beers. It is a land rich in the history of Poles and Jews, a land and time beautifully painted in words by Asher Barash.

Next time some words about a relative. Until then, “do widzenia.”

*The picture of the “Asher Barash” street sign was taken by me in the city where I live, Be’er Sheva, Israel.

Author: Gershon Ben-Avraham

Gershon Ben-Avraham is an American-Israeli writer. He lives in Beersheba, Israel, on the edge of the Negev Desert. He and his wife share their lives with a gentle blue-merle long-haired collie. Ben-Avraham earned an MA in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from Temple University. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek,” (Image) received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. Kelsay Books published his chapbook “God’s Memory” in 2021. חב"ד‎

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