Image courtesy of the South African Cookbook Project
Image courtesy of the South African Cookbook Project
Magazine

Everyday Culinary Zionism in [Jewish] Cookbooks

A way for South Africans to support "culinary zionism" through the advertisement and purchase of Israeli products

Reprinted with permission from the South African Cookbook Project

South African Jews are well known for their commitment to Zionism. Historians have detailed the many ways that South African Jews contributed to the Zionist cause. But how did Zionism change them in return? How did their devotion to Israel shape their everyday lives?

Most South African Jews expressed their support for Israel through fundraising and philanthropy. From the 1950s, one of the most important women’s fundraising activities was the production and sale of community cookbooks. The many cookbooks created by women’s Zionist organizations across the country testify to the effectiveness of this fundraising method. These cookbooks fostered a sense of pride in the South African Jewish community’s contribution to Israel, by highlighting the specific projects that the proceeds from the cookbook would support.  As the foreword to the Magen David Adom Recipe Book (195?) noted:

The publication of this cookbook in aid of funds for the Magen David Adom does not only serve a useful purpose in many homes, but also enables us to assist Headquarters carry out its essential services in Israel––a service which contributes to the health of the people and to the security of the State. 

South African Jews could also support Israel in their role as consumers. In South Africa and other western countries, retailers used diaspora Jews’ desire to support Israel to their advantage. For example, cookbooks featured advertisements for “Nanas” pot scourers, which loudly proclaimed the product’s “Made in Israel” status, and encouraged readers to “Buy Israeli Products”. By purchasing a simple metal sponge, the ad claimed, South African Jews could enjoy the fruits of Israeli industry and ingenuity, with the help of a product that was “far superior to any other obtainable in this country” (Carmel Cooking For Compliments, 1968).

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Advertisement for Nanas Pot Scourers Carmel Cooking for Compliments, 1968.

Israeli culture seemed fresh and exciting, and the cookbooks made all kinds of simple dishes sound more interesting by putting “Israel” or “Tel Aviv” in the title. Readers could find recipes for dishes like “Tel Aviv Cake,” “Israeli Stuffed Cabbage,” “Israeli Shortbread,” “Israeli Nut Rusks,” “Tel Aviv Brinjal,” “Israeli Salad,” “Israeli Cheesecake,” “Israeli Roast,” “Tel Aviv Cabbage Stew,” and “Israeli Chocolate Cake”. Jerusalem did not feature in these cookbooks. South African Jews in the 1950s and 60s were excited by Israel’s newness, and with the Israeli pioneering spirit, encapsulated in the new, Zionist city of Tel Aviv, not the ancient city of Jerusalem.

Through their consumption, Diaspora Jews integrated Israel into their homes and their everyday lives. But in the 1950s and 60s, the idea of Israel, and Israel in reality, were two different things. Only 2,800 South African Jews made aliyah to Israel between 1948 and 1964. In an age before mass travel tofala Israel, many South African Jews had little hands-on familiarity with the country, and with a culture that was very different to their own.

The-Club-and-I-Shamenit-Advertisement-2
Israeli Food Advertisements The Club and I, 1974.

For example, in the Goodwill and Magen David Adom cookbooks, which included special international sections, Israel featured as a foreign country, alongside China and Argentina. Few South African Jews at this time would have recognized a falafel, now Israel’s most iconic dish. Cookbooks translated the dish as “Cooked Chickpeas,” or “Chick Pea Quenelle”. The Arcadia Recipe and Household Guide (1968) described the falafel as “Israeli Hot Dogs”. By explaining Israeli food to their readers, community cookbooks helped South African Jews become more familiar with this new Israeli culture, and enabled them to place that culture within their own frames of reference. 

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