On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao
by Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz
Jewish Lights, 272 pages, $18.99
If there is one attribute that all Jews across the spectrum possess, it’s the pride we feel when a fellow Jew accomplishes something noteworthy. Many of these achievements are easy to spot: Albert Einstein introducing the world to the theory of relativity; the critical role that Jews played in advancing the civil rights movement, or how a man named Morrie Yohai invented the beloved Cheez Doodle (true story). Others have been lost or concealed over the centuries. These are the stories that, for the sake of scholarship and our collective desire to kvell, need and deserve to be excavated.
Take Jews and chocolate. There are Hanukkah gelt, yes, and chocolate babka to consider. But a book by Rabbi Deborah Prinz, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao,” suggests that the connection between the Jewish people and the cocoa bean is much richer.
Prinz is a Reform rabbi by training and a self-professed chocolate obsessive by birth. She is the kind of person who will drive miles out of her way for an exceptional piece of chocolate. So when she read a brochure at a chocolate store in Paris that proclaimed, “Jews brought chocolate making to France,” her curiosity was piqued.
Her research was not immediately or unanimously encouraged. Early on, a colleague dismissed the project as futile — “like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Prinz pushed on anyway, and thankfully so. Over the course of five years, she played the role of both journalist and enthusiast, traveling with her husband, Rabbi Mark Hurvitz, to France, Mexico, Belgium, Israel, Spain, Switzerland and other chocolate meccas, in search of clues in the cobblestones. Her personal delight at the unusually good fortune of the task is apparent within the book’s pages. (“We had to eat more chocolate — for research’s sake” is a representative and envy-inducing refrain.)
And yet the resulting book is far from frivolous. It is the first book to tackle the subject of Jews and chocolate at any significant length, and Prinz didn’t shy away from intense historical research to do justice to the project. In between trips, Prinz spent ample time digging in archives for merchant ledgers, diary accounts, Inquisition records and other source material to lend historical heft to her on-the-ground findings. “On the Chocolate Trail” is at its most compelling during these moments of scholarship.