Author Archives: tameron

The Coming Together of Matzo Ball Soup

Original Script: “Every year…even to this day, we made Matzo Ball Soup for high holidays. It is basically, the chicken soup of the Jewish people. It is my favorite traditional Jewish dish and the recipe has been passed down for generations…Every year, I go to the grocery store and get everything I need: the chicken—the whole thing cut up—, the celery, carrots, onions, fresh dill—none of that pre-packaged crap—celery salt…Then I go home and take out a huge soup pot that can hold 12 gallons. I put everything in the pot…have my kids, and husband help…it is a long process that can take up to seven hours. After it is cooked I let it cool and I make the matzo balls and add it to the soup. The next day, when it is time celebrate, I heat them both up together and it is delicious! It is usually always eaten to the bottom of the pot, but if there is a left overs I freeze the soup to heat up for later. My family, my kids, my nephews and nieces, love it. It is something everyone looks forward to when we get together. I don’t only make it for high holidays, there is always an excuse to make it…when I am sick, when my kids are sick, when my husband is sick, hell, when I just want to eat it, I make it.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Cheryl grew up in a predominately Jewish household in Skokie, Illinois. Her stepfather’s, Obbie, mother had witness the holocaust and he had also lost a sister to a concentration camp, which concentration camp is unknown. Very proud of his Jewish heritage, Obbie, Cheryl’s mother—Riki—, Cheryl’s siblings—Victor and Hope—and Cheryl grew up a very conservative Jewish family—celebrating all of the Jewish high holidays such as: Yom Kippur, Shabbat, and Passover—as well as attending Synagogue every Sunday.Cheryl had learned the recipe from her mother, and has been something that has been passed down through the generations of their family. To Cheryl, she not only loves the Matzo Ball Soup because of its taste, but she also enjoys the fact that it is something from her whole family enjoys and is something the family can do together.

Context of the Performance: High Holiday food—a food usually made in correlation with Jewish holidays.

Thoughts about the piece: After interviewing Cheryl, and having a Jewish heritage as well as tasting her Matzo Ball Soup myself, I can understand her fondness for the soup. However, I believe the soup is also associated with the coming together of a group of people with the same religious background and is associated with a group identity. The preparation of the soup has become a family tradition as it is performed over many years—thus it became a tradition that celebrates the heritage of the Jewish people. It is also interesting to note that those performing and the audience are the same people—the family, albeit that more of the extended family is associated with the audience as well. The cooking of the Matzo Ball Soup can also be associated to that of a ritual that is in the beginning of a sequence of events for a festival. (It can also be observed that the freezing of the Matzo Ball soup can be considered the closing ceremony. What is interesting is the fact that is traditional meal is something the family makes when someone is sick, or they just want to eat it. Perhaps, performing the cooking of the soup after the time and place of festivals make the family reminisce on being surrounded by family—which in turn makes them feel better. Thus, Matzo Ball Soup becomes a folk material object.

The Miracle Paste

Original Script: “Okay so you were there when we heard this story from Sheliah…but I will say it again because GOD BLESS, that stuff has helped us. So, a while ago, Sheliah was doing this wedding—she is a makeup artist—and the bride had food poisoning on her wedding day! Food. Poisoning. That is probably the worst possible thing that could happen on her wedding day. It was from a Mexican restaurant at the rehearsal dinner the night before. Anyways, the bride was literally feeling so sick and Sheliah had tried EVERYTHING to get the bride to feel better. Even the vendors who were just for set up were trying to get the bride to feel better because she was going to call off her wedding! They tried bread, everything you could find in CVS to make food positioning subside, EVERYTHING. Sheliah was about to follow the bride down the aisle with a bucket! The bride was crying and Sheliah was trying to put on her false eyelashes while the bride kept throwing up. But, this one lady from production or another, came into the room with this weird purple paste called ‘Umeboshi Paste,’ basically like a Japanese plum puree, that you have to go to a world market to find. Anyways, she open the jar up, took out a spoon full and gave it to the bride, you could literally see the brides color in her face come back! It is literally a miracle paste! The ending of the story was sooooo funny though! Everyone started working double time to get the bride all set and ready. Sheliah walked into the room where the bride had her wedding dress and stopped in her tracks, she ran out of the room yelling, ‘YOU HAVE A FREAKING MONIQUE LHUILLIER!? IF I WOULD OF KNOWN THAT I WOULD OF KICKED YOUR BUTT TWO HOURS AGO!!’ Hahah, but ever since hearing that story, we, and every other wedding planner I know carry this miracle paste in their emergency kits. Just in case. You never know!”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Tiffany is an event coordinator and has been for a couple of years. She has ample experience in the event planning business and usually knows how to get out of the most complicated situations. However, She has never heard of a story where a planner was able to cure food poisoning during the wedding day (given that most brides do not risk having rehearsal dinners at unknown restaurants). Usually, when food poisoning occurs the bride is able to last the ceremony. Recently, the story Tiffany, and I, heard was a few months ago. Since then, she always carries this Umeboshi paste and knows many event planners that carry the paste as well. Just in case food poisoning occurs.

Context of the Performance: Wedding Day Food Poisoning

Thoughts about the piece: Given the fact that I work with Tiffany as well as heard the story myself, it is still an interesting and funny tale as well as a fascinating way to cure food poisoning. Hearing the story a second time was just as amusing as the first time I heard it. At first, Tiffany and I thought that Sheliah was making this story up—that it was a practical joke. Nonetheless, after she showed us a picture of the paste, and using it in a food poisoning case ourselves (but thankfully only once) it is as Tiffany had noted, a “miracle paste.”

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that CVS or western medicines—a “modern” medicine—could not cure the food poisoning of the bride but a paste from Japan was able to—and quickly as well. This shows that even though America prides itself on being a developed nation, there are still some barriers that are not broken. Moreover, the fact that this paste is now widely used with event planners to cure food poisoning, it has become a folk medicine; the folk being event planners and the medicine being the Umeboshi Paste. Even though, this paste was probably not meant to be a cure for food poisoning, event planners have innovated it to work as such.

Following up with Tiffany a month later, she said that she does not go to an event without it. Thus, this material object—which is now a folk medicine—can also be seen as a sacred object and/ or good luck charm just in case something was to go wrong during the event. This folk medicine demonstrates how even when modern medicine, that has coincidently been mostly derived from folk medicine, cannot cure a simple case of food poisoning, when a simple paste from Japan can. In which, this folk medicine surpasses westernized medicine.

The Devil’s Curse in Guam

Original Script: “Okay so this is crazy…but basically my friends dad is in the marines, and he is usually based in Guam or San Diego like at the Marine base. So, she was born in San Diego and lived their the majority of her life, when her dad would be deported she would stay with her grandparents. Anyway, while in Guam, her dad would go to bars with his friends when they had some time off… Well one night they were bored…or something, so they all went to someone’s house and there was a Ouija board and they started playing with it. And they were all drunk too so that made it worse. So, they asked a couple of questions and actually did work, so they got freaked out and wanted to get rid of it and they ended up throwing it away. But the friend had gotten the board from someone that lived there. Like the Island is still an old world nation so they still have a lot of old cultural things and they believe in demons attaching themselves to a living person. A couple days later he found it under his bed and thought, ‘who the hell is playing tricks on me it must of been one of my friends or whatever.’ So he went to throw it in a dumpster far away from where he lived because it still freaked him out a little bit and so nobody could find it and put it under his bead again. However, a couple of days later he found it under his AGAIN, and he was like, “No this is bullshit,” so he burned the Ouija board because he didn’t want to mess with it anymore. A couple days later, he found it under the bed, AGAIN. It literally unburned, like how the hell does that happen? And he got so freaked out he went to priest, the priest had to keep in the church because the Ouija board was possessed and had to close the portal that created the bridge between the spirit world and the living—so spirits and demons couldn’t come into where they were living. The priest had to go to all of the people who participated in the Ouija board and had to bless where they were all living. However, I don’t know if it worked because at her house she was possessed, like I’m not friends with her anymore because she acted that way…like her family is haunted, cursed! I would never mess with a Ouija board, that stuff brings in bad shit.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. Kamilah has always believed that spirits and demons haunt Ouija board and had repeated multiple times that she would never participate in the practice of the Ouija board in fear of letting a devil haunt her and her family.

Context of the Performance: Ouija board usage in Guam

Thoughts about the piece: As a firm believer in never using a Ouija board, I have to say this story chilled me to the core. The legend of the demons in Guam is an interesting one. In this account of a Ouija board, the unexplainable—like the board ending up under the father’s bed and the board being mysteriously unburned—becomes prominent. This legend shows the prominent cultural influence of Guam and their old-world mindset. It also shows their belief in the demons and spirits not only attaching themselves to a Ouija board but also these entities attaching themselves to the living.

However, what fascinated me the most was the extent of the curse of the Ouija board. This curse of the girl’s father, travelled over seas to San Diego, where inevitably the whole family ended up being affected. Even though Kamilah was not a first account of the story happening in Guam, she was the first account of how the curse had affected the entire family, to the extend where it terrified her so badly that she had to cut ties with them. I believe this example of the legend of the Ouija board is relative to not only the Guam culture, but also the American culture. Even though, the people of Guam were terrified of the Ouija board, for example the priest having to lock it up in the church so that he could seal it properly, it also shows how an American, Kamilah, even I, were chilled by the story of the board. Perhaps, it is because of the unknown that scares us, but the aftermath experienced by Kamilah was what led her to believe that the family was cursed. Nevertheless, I do wonder who gave the father’s friend the board, for if the people of Guam were so afraid of them, was it considered an act of revenge to give the board to someone else? Nonetheless, this story demonstrates how legends can transcend upon different cultures, affecting them the same way—instilling a feeling so powerful that it influences people—in this case the feeling was fear.

Coffee Fortune

Original Script: “Basically he Armenian culture has this thing where they can get the fortune read through coffee…it has to be…they have a specific coffee powder that they use…usually a group of woman gather at a table and the coffee is poured. It is usually the oldest woman who reads everyone’s fortune at the table, you know ‘the wise woman.’ Who my cousin mentioned was kind of scary…Anyways, after they drink the coffee the head lady reads the fortune…it is kind of like Harry Potter at that part where the lay was reading tea leaves…kind of like that. Basically my cousin fortune was true that she got from the coffee reader. The wise woman told her she was going to get married soon…and she did! It was really cool”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. While Kamilah did not particularly believe in witches as her roots from Nicaragua do, the case with Rosario Murillo, really made Kamilah a strong believer in them. However, while Kamilah is not technically Armenian, her closest friends, who are like her family, are. Thus, she is very familiar with the nationality and practices of the Armenian folk.

Context of the Performance: Getting a fortune read

Thoughts about the piece: When Kamilah had told me this story about the coffee reading, my mind automatically went to the pop culture Harry Potter series before she had made the comparison herself. I knew that there were cultures that believed in the drinking of an herb (in this case coffee) could tell one’s fortune, however, hearing the process from Kamilah was a very fascinating experience. As mentioned, the connection with the pop culture phenomenon of Harry Potter, was an interesting parallel to this Armenian practice, for both have an elderly woman communicating the fortune to the individual out of a herb like substance. Additionally, I thought it was very interesting how they have a “wise woman” at the head of the table. It reminded me of the previous story I had interviewed Kamilah about (one that was about witches in Nicaragua) and that being personified as a witch is attributed to people fearing a person. In this setting, to me, it seems a that this fortune telling can be attributed to witchcraft because of the group not only being compiled of woman—and only woman—but also for the fact that there is a head “wise” witch, a woman which all the woman look up to as a leader and also fear her—personifying the woman as a witch.

Moreover, it is also interesting how it has to be a specific kind of coffee for the fortune telling to take place. With the group of woman, and the specific type of coffee, the coming together of a fortune seems almost ritualistic. Especially, the going around of the table to tell one another’s fortune as well as the wise woman being the head of the table, and also the only one to tell the fortunes—seems like it is all part of a ritual. This also brings in an interesting question, and opposition to the common American belief, in respecting elders. While America separates themselves entirely from the elderly—having specific designated homes for the elderly and having one of most developed retirement programs in the world, most foreign countries have a great respect for their elders, specifically their wisdom which is shown in this display of fortune telling among the Armenian women.

Furthermore, I think it is interesting that even though Kamilah is not Armenian, she does believe in some of the customs of the Armenian people because of her closeness to her friends. This adds the notion of culture being learned and not being something one is born with. Thus, her cousin—whom she is also close to—going to one of these fortune telling rituals, even though not Armenian, and the fortune actually becoming true, initiating the belief in both Kamilah and her cousin tells us that culture can be learned. Hence, this ritual can also be seen as an inanition to a kin group.

Collision of Catholicism and Judaism

Original Script: “Well…I always knew that I wanted to raise my children Jewish, but I also did not want to take away their heritage of their father from them as well….so every year, we would celebrate the eight days of Hanukah and Christmas. It was funny…I remember when my children would go to synagogue after the winter break and my kids would tell the other kids about how they celebrated both Christmas and Hanukah that year…and you know kids, they always want presents. So they thought Jay and Ab got twice as many presents every year…but oh boy that was far from the case. We would open one gift every night for Hanukah, usually the presidents were items that would go with another Christmas one…as to give a hint what their presents were…If Hanukah fell on Christmas then we would wrap the kids presents in Hanukah wrapping paper and put them under the Christmas tree…then instead of celebrating the last few nights of Hanukah they would just open all the presents…It was really fun. The house was always decorated in Christmas and Hanukah decorations it was awesome of my children. It is funny, when my children were little they would say we are Jewish and Catholic, when I tried to explain to them that that is not possible…that they were Jewish but celebrated catholic traditions, they would continue to say it. Hahaha, they even sometimes still do even if they are older!”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: While Cheryl is now divorced from her husband is now remarried, her new husband is also Catholic and the tradition of the collision of Christmas and Hanukah still remain the same. Cheryl grew up in a predominately Jewish household in Skokie, Illinois and grew up in a very conservative Jewish family—celebrating all of the Jewish high holidays such as: Yom Kippur, Shabbat, and Passover—as well as attending Synagogue every Sunday. However, Cheryl had gotten married to a Catholic man in her late twenties, which enabled her as well as her husband (who she is now divorced to) to raise their children in a home that celebrated both Hanukah and Christmas. Mark, Cheryl’s ex-husband, grew up in a very Catholic household, attending church every Sunday as well as always attending midnight mass for Christmas. However, even though he stopped attending midnight mass when his children were born, he still instilled the catholic traditions of Christmas in the household.

Context of the Performance: Celebrating Christmas and Hanukah together

Thoughts about the piece: This was a very interesting piece of folklore that I had collected, simply because it brought two very prominent traditions—Christmas and Hanukah—together. It is a very modern take on conservative religious holidays in the combining of two completely separate religions. It is almost as if the two children were the mediators—the peacekeepers, if you—of the two traditions. Where the wintertime specifically was when the two holidays collided.

It is also interesting to note that even though Cheryl had stated that the children celebrated both holidays, sometimes at the same time, they were distinguishable from each other. For example, the wrapping up of the specific Hanukah gifts in Hanukah wrapping paper and the decorations around the house being both Christmas and Hanukah. This comparison brings up the question why there were not specific decorations for multiple wintertime holidays instead of the decorations being segregated into one category (i.e. Hanukah and Christmas). However, it is still an interesting notation of the collision of the two holidays, especially when Cheryl stated that if Hanukah fell on Christmas they would just open up all their remaining Hanukah gifts on Christmas and not celebrate the rest of the eight nights of Hanukah. Furthermore, when Cheryl had stated that most of the kids in the synagogue idea of Christmas and Hanukah celebrating together was foreign to them, it made me think why it was so much more common now in days (many of my friends celebrate both Christmas and Hanukah).

I followed up with Cheryl after this question came to mind, I had found that many of her Jewish friends that she grew up with, are now married to Catholic or Christian men who celebrate Christmas, the traditions of that she described in the interview are, in fact, conducted the same way. To me, this seems like a transformation, or even evolutionism, of the separate entities of religion and the separate groups that follow with the specific religion. In this case, this cohabitation of Christmas and Hanukah create another group of people that celebrate both—it is a collision of folk groups into one folk group.