Lau­ra Sil­ver is the author of the book Knish: In Search of the Jew­ish Soul Food and an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist whose writ­ing on food and cul­ture has appeared in The New York Times and the For­ward and on NPR. She is blog­ging here this week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

Je suis Char­lie.
Je suis juive.
And yes, je suis knish.

The world is still reel­ing from bru­tal attacks in Paris. The events of Fer­gu­son and the Eric Gar­ner tri­al res­onate. Today is Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s time to con­sid­er the knish as an instru­ment of social justice.

1. Acces­si­ble Edible

The car­bo­hy­drate-rich knish stuffs the stom­ach and pro­vides caloric intake for a low price point. The pil­low of dough — round or square, sweet or savory — could feed an army, a small fam­i­ly or serve a sin­gle per­son for two meals. There’s a low bar­ri­er to entry for this sim­ple food that is easy to pro­duce in veg­an and gluten-free varieties.

2. Instru­ment of Peace

Knish mak­er Gussie Schwebel offered to share the hum­ble knish” with Mrs. Eleanor Roo­sevelt – and asked if she could be of ser­vice to her adopt­ed coun­try by way of intro­duc­ing the knish, which is very whole­some and not cost­ly to pro­duce, into the diet of our armed forces.” And, years lat­er pro­claimed her pota­to pies as a cat­a­lyst for rap­proche­ment on domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al fronts. She set out man­u­fac­ture Repub­li­can and Demo­c­ra­t­ic knish­es — the deli­cious dish­es” and believed that knish­es, when served with vod­ka, could help bring an end to the Cold War and ush­er in an era of world peace.

3. Cat­a­lyst for Caring 

The 1970 nov­el Teitelbaum’s Win­dow by Wal­lace Mark­field intro­duces the Knishe Queen, who reigns over the neigh­bor­hood of Brighton Beach, with tenac­i­ty and a taste for the polit­i­cal, as evi­denced by her let­ter to Mahat­ma Gandhi:

We want to once again wish you good luck in your free­ing of India.
Our biggest hope of the Brighton Beach Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is that
you don’t over­do it with your fast­ing because your coun­try is not
going to appre­ci­ate if you come out of prison a ner­vous wreck.
May we there­fore sug­gest that you think of your­self and do what
is good for you by break­ing your fast on one of our black­ber­ry or
goose­ber­ry cur­rant knish­es which are so light­ly fried in the finest
qual­i­ty peanut oil that the word fried doesn’t even apply. As made
in our mod­ern kitchens, these knish­es are strict­ly parveh, meat
doesn’t go any­where near them.

4. Cap­sule of Culture

The knish has been immor­tal­ized by Issac Baschevis Singer, Sholom Ale­ichem and Bar­bra Streisand, who, in her wel­come back to Brook­lyn con­cert in 2012, adapt­ed the lyrics of As If We Nev­er Said Good­bye” from the musi­cal Sun­set Boule­vard to pay homage to the street food of her youth. 

Yes, a world with hot knish­es
Is incred­i­bly delicious 

Hip hop artist SD3 (an abbre­vi­a­tion of Sam­my Davis III) has used the knish to bridge cul­tur­al and culi­nary divides – and to spur con­ver­sa­tions, using — nu? — the knish. Case in point, the lyrics of dit­ty he belts out in a music video set at – where else? – a bar mitzvah.

One Pota­to, Two Pota­to, Three Knish
A table full of Bubbe’s good­ies is what I wish.

The pota­to pie also works as an ambas­sador. Wrapped pas­tries like Jamaican pat­ties, aloo pies, samosas and empanadas that occur in culi­nary tra­di­tions of all eth­nic­i­ties and fla­vors count as knish­ing cousins.

5. Cham­pi­on of Under­dogs and Unmentionables

The knish doesn’t shy away from ten­der top­ics. Night­club croon­er Pearl Williams har­nessed its Yid­dish slang mean­ing to project female pow­er. Her 1961 record album (yes, vinyl), A Trip around the World Is Not a Cruise, oozed innu­en­dos, loud, proud and unapologetic.

I found a new way to do it. For mon­ey.
Don’t laugh. For years … I was doing it for love. Then one day I
took a ride through the Hol­land Tun­nel and I saw a big sign: Pay as
you enter.” What an idea hit my brain. Now I have a tat­too above the
knish: Pay as you enter.” Under­neath, I have a tat­too: Thank you,
call again. Mem­ber of the Din­ers Club.”

So, if you’re feel­ing dis­traught about the state of the world, or need to sum­mon strength for a Day of Ser­vice, reach for a knish. It con­tains mul­ti­tudes and will help you steel your­self for the chal­lenges to come. Remem­ber, it’s not our job to fin­ish it, but we must begin.

Lau­ra Sil­ver has been a writer in res­i­dence at the Mil­lay Colony, the Banff Cen­tre, and the New York Pub­lic Library. She is con­sid­ered the world’s lead­ing expert on the knish.

Relat­ed Content:

Lau­ra Sil­ver is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist whose writ­ing on food and cul­ture has appeared in The New York Times and The For­ward and on NPR. Lau­ra has been a writer in res­i­dence at the Mil­lay Colony, the Banff Cen­tre, and the New York Pub­lic Library. She is cur­rent­ly con­sid­ered the world’s lead­ing expert on the knish.