Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ode to Cholent!

As if I didn't get enough people searching for "cholent" and getting to my blog, I thought I'd provide more reason for such searchers to end up here. Yes, while busy reading over Shabbos the most recent issue of Moment magazine, I happened upon a fascinating article about cholent with a great recipe. The part of the article that really sparked my interest, however, was some lines from a poem by Heinrich Heine called "Sabbath Princess."

It's a long poem, but believe me, it's worth reading, if only because the bits about cholent (called schalet in this poem) is pretty hilarious. Cholent as ambrosia? Oh yes.

And if cholent doesn't strike your fancy, check out their fascinating article on how Jews -- quite literally -- built Alaska.

Princess Sabbath
By Heinrich Heine (Trans. Margaret Armour)
IN Arabia’s book of fable
We behold enchanted princes
Who at times their form recover,
Fair as first they were created.
The uncouth and shaggy monster        5
Has again a king for father;
Pipes his amorous ditties sweetly
On the flute in jewelled raiment.
Yet the respite from enchantment
Is but brief, and, without warning,        10
Lo! we see his Royal Highness
Shuffled back into a monster.
Of a prince by fate thus treated
Is my song. His name is Israel,
And a witch’s spell has changed him        15
To the likeness of a dog.
As a dog, with dog’s ideas,
All the week, a cur, he noses
Through life’s filthy mire and sweepings,
Butt of mocking city Arabs;        20
But on every Friday evening,
On a sudden, in the twilight,
The enchantment weakens, ceases,
And the dog once more is human.
And his father’s halls he enters        25
As a man, with man’s emotions,
Head and heart alike uplifted,
Clad in pure and festal raiment.
“Be ye greeted, halls beloved,
Of my high and royal father!        30
Lo! I kiss your holy door-posts,
Tents of Jacob, with my mouth!”
Through the house there passes strangely
A mysterious stir and whisper,
And the hidden master’s breathing        35
Shudders weirdly through the silence.
Silence! save for one, the steward
(Vulgo, synagogue attendant)
Springing up and down, and busy
With the lamps that he is lighting.        40
Golden lights of consolation,
How they sparkle, how they glimmer!
Proudly flame the candles also
On the rails of the Almemor.
By the shrine wherein the Thora        45
Is preserved, and which is curtained
By a costly silken hanging,
Whereon precious stones are gleaming.
There, beside the desk already
Stands the synagogue precentor,        50
Small and spruce, his mantle black
With an air coquettish shouldering;
And, to show how white, his hand is,
At his neck he works—forefinger
Oddly pressed against his temple,        55
And the thumb against his throat.
To himself he trills and murmurs,
Till at last his voice he raises;
Till he sings with joy resounding,
“Lecho dodi likrath kallah!”        60
“Lecho dodi likrath kallah—
Come, beloved one, the bride
Waits already to uncover
To thine eyes her blushing face!”
The composer of this poem,        65
Of this pretty marriage song,
Is the famous minnesinger,
Don Jehudah ben Halevy.
It was writ by him in honour
Of the wedding of Prince Israel        70
And the gentle Princess Sabbath,
Whom they call the silent princess.
Pearl and flower of all beauty
Is the princess—not more lovely
Was the famous Queen of Sheba,        75
Bosom friend of Solomon,
Who, Bas Bleu of Ethiopia,
Sought by wit to shine and dazzle,
And became at length fatiguing
With her very clever riddles.        80
Princess Sabbath, rest incarnate,
Held in hearty detestation
Every form of witty warfare
And of intellectual combat.
She abhorred with equal loathing        85
Loud declamatory passion—
Pathos ranting round and storming
With dishevelled hair and streaming.
In her cap the silent princess
Hides her modest, braided tresses,        90
Like the meek gazelle she gazes,
Blooms as slender as the myrtle.
She denies her lover nothing
Save the smoking of tobacco;
“Dearest, smoking is forbidden,        95
For to-day it is the Sabbath.
“But at noon, as compensation,
There shall steam for thee a dish
That in very truth divine is—
Thou shalt eat to-day of schalet!        100
“Schalet, ray of light immortal!
Schalet, daughter of Elysium!”
So had Schiller’s song resounded,
Had he ever tasted schalet,
For this schalet is the very        105
Food of heaven, which, on Sinai,
God Himself instructed Moses
In the secret of preparing,
At the time He also taught him
And revealed in flames of lightning        110
All the doctrines good and pious,
And the holy Ten Commandments.
Yes, this schalet’s pure ambrosia
Of the true and only God:
Paradisal bread of rapture;        115
And, with such a food compared,
The ambrosia of the pagan,
False divinities of Greece,
Who were devils ’neath disguises,
Is the merest devils’ offal.        120
When the prince enjoys the dainty,
Glow his eyes as if transfigured,
And his waistcoat he unbuttons;
Smiling blissfully he murmurs,
“Are not these the waves of Jordan        125
That I hear—the flowing fountains
In the palmy vale of Beth-el,
Where the camels lie at rest?
“Are not these the sheep-bells ringing
Of the fat and thriving wethers        130
That the shepherd drives at evening
Down Mount Gilead from the pastures?”
But the lovely day flits onward,
And with long, swift legs of shadow
Comes the evil hour of magic—        135
And the prince begins to sigh;
Seems to feel the icy fingers
Of a witch upon his heart;
Shudders, fearful of the canine
Metamorphosis that waits him.        140
Then the princess hands her golden
Box of spikenard to her lover,
Who inhales it, fain to revel
Once again in pleasant odours.
And the princess tastes and offers        145
Next the cup of parting also—
And he drinks in haste, till only
Drops a few are in the goblet.
These he sprinkles on the table,
Then he takes a little wax-light,        150
And he dips it in the moisture
Till it crackles and is quenched.