Reconnecting with my Jewishness, one knish at a time

Hello from North Haven!

As has become tradition, Bill, Pen and I spent the long weekend in Manhattan, visiting my sister, brother-in-law and their perfect offspring. It was a pretty quick visit, but we had time to go to the Strand bookstore, walk around the East Village, take Pen scootering at a playground, and of course eat a lot of delicious things.

We had Sichuan food and bubble tea, Big Gay Ice Cream and Moroccan meze. But most meaningful of all was the sesame bagel with egg salad, and the potato knish, that I had at Tal Bagel Café.

We’d intended to all go to Café Mogador for some halloumi eggs, but my nephew had other ideas and was up most of the night. When he (and his exhausted parents) were still asleep at 9:30, Bill, Pen and I decided to head out for bagels.

We bypassed some of the closer bagel places in favor of Tal Bagel Café and Appetizing. Appetizing describes the foods one eats with bagels, anything from sable and lox to egg salad and cream cheese. Tal also offers chocolate babkas and potato, spinach or kasha knishes. We got a little of everything – two sesame bagels with egg salad, three potato knishes (only one of which was consumed in the moment), and a chocolate babka. These are all extremely delicious foods, and very typical foods of the Ashkenazi Jewish diaspora to which I belong.

Grand Central Station: a portal to a different food universe

Although my mother made wonderful latkes, matzo ball soup and challah when I was a kid, the thought of entering a deli or appetizing store and loading up on sweet and savory delights felt like the most Jewish thing I, a non-religious kid, could do. But in central Maine, Mr. Bagel was as close as I could get. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t quite my people.

So now when I visit New York, I make a point of living out that childhood fantasy. Sometimes we make it as far south as Pickle Guys, in the lower East Side, or wait in line for Russ and Daughters, and sometimes it’s just a quick stop into a bagel place, like today. But it’s satisfying in a way that few other things are. I don’t even eat fish, but being in the presence of a whitefish salad or pickled herring makes me feel a little more relaxed, like I’ve gone from an outlier to a member of the mainstream.

A mini-bagel with cream cheese is just right

We ate our food and brought the rest of the knishes, the chocolate babka and some bagels back to my sister’s apartment. Some of them came with us for the long drive back to Maine the next day, and they offered necessary sustenance on the road.

When we got back to Rockland, we had enough time to go to the grocery store and stock up on fruit and Tofurkey before getting on the ferry. I eagerly hit the “shop the world” aisle, with its promise of kosher items. I wanted some Israeli couscous and a few boxes of Manischewitz matzo ball soup mix to guard against the cold weather.

When I turned down the aisle, it was Goya products on one side, and various pasta shapes on the other, with nary a kosher product to be found. I asked a cashier, who thought there might be an end cap, but there was nothing. Two weeks from Chanukah, even.

And just like that, I was cast out into the diaspora again, adrift and alone. So long, appetizing store. See you next time. Hello, Maine.


Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!