Milk chocolate. Semi-sweet chocolate. Dark chocolate. The Adas Israel Sisterhood ended their season of events on a sweet note Sunday by inviting congregants to learn about the history of Jews and chocolate.
“Chocolate is the most consumed food in the U.S.” Sheilah Kaufman, lecturer on Jewish culinary subjects, told the group. “The Swiss consume the most.”
Jews began their love affair with chocolate not long after they were expelled from Spain in the late 1400s, according to Kaufman, Many Jews scattered to the Caribbean and South America, where they formed relationships with the original inhabitants.
“Jews did not steal their land nor try to convert them,” Kaufman said. “[They] trusted Jews and taught them how to process cacao.”
That’s how Jews entered into the manufacturing and trading of chocolate.
The story of Jews and chocolate was not entirely sweet, however.
“The Catholic Church had a love-hate relationship with chocolate.” Kaufman said. It was branded as a sin and not allowed during Lent. Thankfully for Jewish businesses, “Catholic women could not do without their chocolate during Lent” and demanded to have it back, Kaufman said.
Starting in the 1600s, chocolate houses and shops sprang up all over Europe. Chocolate, like tea and coffee, was a delicacy for only the rich, Kaufman said. Chocolate shops were even set up in ghettos.
Jews first came to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, in 1654. The Dutch saved the Jews, Kaufman said. “They did not like anything that disrupted Jewish trade.”
“The American chocolate habit” is due in large part to the “World War I dough boys [American soldiers] in France who were served hot chocolate. They said it gave them energy.”
The rise of Nazism led to refugee chocolate makers arriving in Palestine and the U.S., Kaufman said. “Now the new generation of chocolate is Max Brenner” — the international chocolate restaurant that is a subsidiary of an Israeli food and beverage company. She added that the “kosher chocolate market is being redefined.”
Kaufman wrapped up her talk by saying, “the next time you bite into a chocolate bar or savor a piece of rich, moist chocolate cake, you can be thankful to those early Jewish manufacturers and traders who helped make it possible.”
Sampling some chocolate after the presentation, Adas Israel member Julie Weisman said she came to the event because, “I love chocolate.”
Judith Hellerstein said, “I was interested in learning about early Sephardi history on chocolate. It intrigued me.”