‘Ode to the Latke’ by Edward Stankiewicz
A companion to our tribute to the Yiddishist and scholar
If you’ve not read today’s piece by Frances Brent about the late Edward Stankiewicz, here’s your reminder. Also, to accompany the piece, we’re running one of Stankiewicz’s poems, which gives homage to the latke. Stankiewicz was a member of the linguistics faculty at the University of Chicago, which hosts the famous annual Latke-Hamantash Debate.
Ode to the Latke
A Jew develops from the cradle
A craving for the knish and knaydl.
He’ll glorify gefilte fish,
But I, I love the latke dish.
A Jew’ll pursue with zest and mania
The whiff of a kishke from Rumania;
He’ll call a Shabbos-meal his princess,
And lick his fingers after blintzes.
A Jew will put his soul and talent
Into a cholent, known also as schalet;
He’ll bless the Lord or shout “hurrah”
When he tastes the garlic of pitcha.
Many a Jew has made his slogan
A pot of kreplakh or pirogen,
But I say, “Kreplakh, shmeplakh, nothing
Delights me as much as a latke puffing.”
Some Jews will hail with shofar, bugle,
The glory of a lokshen kugel,
But I, I am in a blissful state
When I see a well-stacked latke plate.
And what is in a hamantash?
A hamantash is but a nash!
A latke sends you, it inspires,
And titillates with fresh desires.
Pity the gentile and the heathen,
What have they got that we don’t have Yidn?
Though some may insist with serious mien,
That the gentile, too, has a fine cuisine.
That the Turk has invented shish kebab,
Which no fine palate can afford to snub,
That Indian kurkum, or Chinese foo-yung
Is a feast from the East for the choosy tongue;
That the French with his endive salad and brie,
Has made European history,
That Italian spaghetti at one glance
Transports you into the Renaissance,
That even the German sauerkraut
Can’t be thrown to a vulgar snout,
Not to speak of gevetsh de Pešt,
Which is praised by gourmets from Budapest.
Faced with the gentile’s cuisine and variety,
A Jew will not lose his nerve or piety,
Recalling his mother’s strudel dessert,
He will say, “I have those things in dr’erd.”
A Jew brought up on Mama’s culture,
Will shout, “Throw those dishes to the vulture!
I will not touch that stuff at all,
If I can have a matzah ball.”
No Jew could possibly endorse
That yell, “My kingdom for a horse.”
But he would give his shirt and gatkes,
For a couple of Mama’s latkes.
A Jew, he almost genuflects
When’t comes to food; not even sex
Can send such shivers through his spine,
“Oh, mechaiyeh, mm, divine.”
But in our garden one dish is most noble,
Ancient, regal, mysterious, and global,
Only one dish is the dish of dishes—
Fluffy, round, profound, delicious;
The sphere of spheres, the circled line,
The magic “O,” the fresser’s shrine,
Jacob’s ladder, King David’s psalm,
A world of wisdom the size of a palm,
The source of joy and eternal spring,
Of Thee I sing…
Latke, latke sizzling bright
In the skillet, on that night.
Oh, what skillful hand or eye
Has shaped thy golden symmetry?
In what fragrant oil or grease
Did you rise to please, to tease
Our palate with your crunchy crust,
So soft inside, to make us lust,
To fill our hearts with an ardent passion
That can’t be stilled by hamantashen!!!
Related: The Napkin Artist [Tablet]