Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Jewish Penicillin

“When I was growing up in a Jewish home near Philadelphia, whenever my sister or brother or I would get sick, our grandmother would make us chicken soup. It was referred to as “Jewish Penicillin,” even though it was just matzah ball soup or chicken noodle soup. My mother was convinced that it cured what ailed you. If you were sick, she probably wouldn’t take you to the doctor right away. She probably wouldn’t take you to the doctor for maybe five days. Only then would she admit that you were really sick and the Jewish penicillin hadn’t cured you because in my family, it was believed that was all you need when you’re sick.”

Context: The informant was raised in Cherry Hill, South New Jersey, which is minutes away from Philadelphia. She was raised in a Conservative/Masorti Jewish household. Both sides of her family are Jewish.

Interpretation: This illustrates the value of folk medicine in certain cultures. Jewish Penicillin was not only seen as a valid cure, but actually a preferable cure to traditional Western methods. It can also be seen as an act of embracing Jewish culture before American culture. The informant and most of her family see their Judaism as one of the foremost facets of their identity.

 

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