Commentary Magazine


The Jerusalem Bagel

To the Editor:

I offer a brief footnote to Irving Pfefferblit’s article on the bagel in the May COMMENTARY.

Having just finished a third Jerusalem bagel, I believe it is possible to state: If you haven’t eaten this bagel, you haven’t eaten bagels. What you have eaten are wooden doughnuts, brown rubber teething rings, quoits, but you haven’t eaten bagels . . . .

There are now two types of petit pain in my world: the Paris croissant and the Jerusalem bagel. However, there is no comparison to be drawn, for the New York croissant is perhaps half as good as its Gallic counterpart, but to compare the two types of bagel is ridiculous.

The New York bagel is heavy, like a heavy heart; it is tough, like a policeman. It is shiny like a plastic toy or something wrapped in cellophane. Like all bad bread, it is preferred split, toasted, and buttered. It is improved, so the experts tell me, if heavily spread with cream cheese and then covered with lox.

The Jerusalem bagel—but wait, I must get one . . . . H’m, tov. First, then, it hasn’t a streamlined look, it is more primitively shaped. Circular, of course, but only roughly circular as if made by a craftsman, not by a man turned into a machine. Second, it probably has about the same amount of raw material as the New Yorker but its outer diameter is larger (average 3 3/4 inches), and the hole ordinarily measures about 1 7/8 inches. Compare this to the closer-knit New York type and you will understand that the larger size gives an airiness, an openness, a different allure entirely. Third, the skin has the polished gleam of a cobblestone on an old street in its native city; only the high lights gleam, the hollows are dull, for this crust has texture. Its color is not far different from its brother but lighter, more mottled, suggestive of the eroded hills.

But the test of a bagel is not in the looking. This bagel can be broken without a struggle, it gives itself to the eater—it is crusty but not crumbly, it is chewy but not gummy—it is dry but not thirst-provoking. It satisfies the soul.

Percival Goodman
Jerusalem, Israel

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