By Jennifer 8. Lee | June 29, 2010
SEN. GRAHAM: And I think you would tell me if you thought he was wrong. So I’m going to assume you thought he was right, because that’s the kind of person you are. And I, quite frankly, think he’sÂ right.
Now, as we move forward and deal with law-of-war issues, the Christmas Day bomber — where are you at on Christmas Day?
MS. KAGAN: Senator Graham, that is an undecided legal issue, which — well, I suppose I should ask exactly what you mean by that. I’m assuming that the question you mean is whether a person who isÂ apprehended in the United States is —
SEN. GRAHAM: No, I just asked you where you were at on Christmas? (Laughter.)
MS. KAGAN: (Laughs.) You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant. (Laughter, applause.)
SEN. GRAHAM: Great answer. Great answer.
SEN. LEAHY: You know, I could almost — I could almost see that was coming. (Laughter.)
SEN. GRAHAM: Me too. So you were celebrating —
SEN. LEAHY: Senator Schumer explained this to me earlier.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, he did.
SEN. SCHUMER: No other restaurants are open.
SEN. GRAHAM: Right. You were with your family on Christmas day at a Chinese restaurant — okay.
MS. KAGAN: Yes, sir.
SEN. GRAHAM: That’s great. That’s what Chanukah and Christmas is all about. (Laughter.)
Love that the Jews’ love affair with Chinese food is now part of the Congressional record. My chapter, Why is Chow Mein the Chosen Food of the Chosen People has been excerpted for a project about Jews and mahjongg.
It’s an endlessly fascinating topic, and the topic of a Night Before Christmas parody as well as academic papers, including this one called “Safe Treyf” [pdf] and another by Hannah Miller. This is why I went on theÂ Jewish book circuit.
This exchange has been noted by The New York Times,Â The Atlantic, Politico, Bloomberg, The Huffington Post, among others. Arguably, this will go down in the canon of famous lines from Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
As to why Jews love Chinese food? My post on pastrami egg rolls highlights some of the reasons.
- Chinese and Jews are among the two largest (if not the two largest) non-Christian immigrant groups, so they followed similar calendars. This is where Chinese food on Christmas may stem from, since Chinese restaurants were open.
- Chinese food does not use dairy (unlike the other two main longtime ethnic cuisines in America, Italian and Mexican), so when many more Jews kept kosher, Chinese food was easier to eat.
- The Chinese use of garlic, rice and chicken were familiar to an Eastern European palate.
- Chinese food was not too expensive and involved family-style sharing.
- Chinese food represented a way to become cosmopolitan.
- Chinatown and the Lower East Side, where a significant number of the Jewish immigrants from around the turn of the century lived, bordered each other. Indeed, theÂ Eldridge Street Synagogue, the first significant Jewish house of worship in the United States, is now squarely in Chinatown these days. (It even has an egg roll festival.)
- For the Jewish immigrants, who were insecure about their rural status way back when, Chinese restaurants allowed them to feel more cosmopolitan.
- The Chinese restaurants didnâ€™t make the Jews feel self-conscious about their immigrant status, as the ChineseÂ owners looked more overtly immigrant than they did!
- Chinese restaurants became a place where they quietly broke kosher rules, for a variety of reasons. The exoticness of the food made it a safe place to have an exception.
Key to remember it’s largely an American Jewish phenomenon. Chinese restaurants are not noticeably popular in Israel for example.
Thanks to Charlie Savage for sending me the transcript.
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