A Literary Magazine in Support of the Jewish Community

Back to Issue Four


Instructions for Enjoying Jewish Food by Laurel Benjamin

Instructions for Enjoying Jewish Food

Your family eats at Canter’s when visiting Lou and Esther Benjamin on Sweetzer Avenue, a few blocks away from Fairfax Avenue, the Jewish home of L.A.


Enjoy the corned beef sandwich because you don’t know how long Canter’s will exist, you don’t know how many years until your mother dies. And because losing Esther broke your mother somehow.


Order the potato salad on the side, even though you have the recipe for potato salad because their son Ken Benjamin is friends with the owner’s son. They know how to do it with a little bit of sugar and grated carrot, a sweeter version, distinctive, and goes with the food there.


The pastry shelf is stuffed with variations of dough, each in its own compartment. They call the little ones rugalach, even though they’re not all that type, instead mini cheese and fruit danishes. Ask for a slice of Russian style cheesecake, where the top crust zigzags. A ribbon of raspberry runs over it.


Your father makes sure he gets enough baked goods to take home. A seeded challah, a Russian rye, a corn rye, along with rugalach, which he would put in the freezer in the hope of prolonging the indulgence.


Canter's defines for you what a Jewish deli and restaurant should be. The walls peppered with signed photos of movie stars and other personalities. Big round booths, Formica tables. Piles of meat. No mayo. Whitefish salad like velvet.


David’s in San Francisco on Geary Street can’t compare, though they have your favorite chopped liver. Don’t get their matzo ball soup—one huge ball, too firm, not the fluffy kind—“the right kind”—your mother makes.


When in Queens, New York, at that Jewish-Greek restaurant, after visiting Jack and Bea, order the chopped liver appetizer, a mound enough large to feed a family of six. Of course, you eat the whole thing, followed by matzo ball soup and a pastrami sandwich.


Living in Berkeley, you walk from your house to Saul’s deli rather than having to get across to San Francisco. You want schmaltz to make matzo balls. They give you fish stock. You find the mistake when you get home and never eat there again until after your mother dies.


Back East, your cousins have their own ideas. They use the phrase “hot bagels.” You walk about fifteen minutes over to a strip mall to get these bagels. They are no different and no hotter than the ones you have back home.


Once, your family goes to Coney Island. You try your first Nathan’s hot dog, dripping with mustard just the way you like it. You don’t remember the rides, just walking on the boardwalk. You later discover that your grandmother and her sisters enjoyed that beach almost every summer day, coming out from Flatbush.

Laurel Benjamin

Laurel Benjamin is a San Francisco Bay Area native, where she invented a secret language with her brother. She has work forthcoming or published in Lily Poetry Review, Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women's Poetry, South Florida Poetry Journal, Trouvaille, One Art, Ekphrastic Review, Flash Boulevard, Midway Journal, among others. Affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and Ekphrastic Writers, she holds an MFA from Mills College and is a reader for Common Ground Review.


Laurel Benjamin