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Trump’s word stew aside, Jews have been weaponizing soup for centuries

As America shudders under the weight of nationwide protests against injustice and a race for a vaccine harkens back to the days of Jonas Salk, President Trump has reminded us of the original Jewish penicillin: soup.

In now viral remarks that Trump made to the National Association of Police Organizations Leadership, the president was heard to say that protesters are weaponizing cans of Campbells.

“You have people coming over with bags of soup — big bags of soup,” Trump said. “And they lay it on the ground, and the anarchists take it and they start throwing it at our cops, at our police. And if it hits you, that’s worse than a brick because that’s got force. It’s the perfect size. It’s, like, made perfect.”

This appears to be a completely baseless assertion made against a primarily peaceful movement. But history shows that soup does have its place in the Jewish people’s struggle with faith and against injustice.

Trump brought the first such instance to mind with his claim that protesters hucking Progresso projectiles told the media, “This is just soup for my family.” Family? Soup? Conflict? We’re getting biblical.

Who could forget that day when Esau, famished from working the fields, returned home to beg his twin Jacob for a bowl of his toothsome-looking “red pottage.” Jacob, crafty little swindler that he was, was like “hmmm, I don’t know. This pottage looks pretty tasty. I’d have to get something really good for it. How about that birthright?” Esau totally went for it.

It was a prophetic stew. Years later, Esau is about ready to murder Jacob for nabbing both their father’s blessing and his birthright. Instead of replaying Cain and Abel, Jacob runs away, works as a servant, gets hitched, wrestles with an angel, gets the spiffy new name of Israel and becomes the father of the 12 tribes. The inciting incident for the OG “brother against brother” civil war was some soup.

Broth courses through our veins and is clearly foundational to our people. But while the pottage certainly played a part in history, its potential martial applications weren’t examined until centuries later.

In Judges, Gideon isn’t so sure that the guy who appeared to him is actually an angel and so demands proof. To settle the matter, the angel has him place a snack of some meat and matzo on a rock for him and tells him to pour soup over it. Flambé! The angel touches the comestibles and a flame leaps from the rock, consuming them. Under a divine touch, it would seem, soup has combustible properties. This is the first recorded example of a matzo ball cocktail.

Soup continued to be a staple for the Jewish people through the years. Cans, however, were in short supply through much of that time as canning technology only really got going in the 19th century (and, of course, our Bubbes still deride any soup not made from scratch.) But the meal saw us through bleak periods in history, and even served as the pretense for a singular act of Jewish resistance.

In the Warsaw Ghetto, writer Rokhl Oyerbakh’s soup kitchen not only nourished the quarter’s Jews, but served as a hub for social services and cultural events. It was a meeting place for Oyneg Shabes, a group that sought to preserve Jewish culture and chronicle ghetto life. Finally, it was a pivotal planning spot for the eventual 1943 Uprising. In the kitchen, members of the Jewish resistance plotted how to secure weapons and disrupt deportations.

While each of these instances fall short of Trump’s blustery monologue about so-called anarchists beaning riot-geared police with cream of mushroom, the spurious claim still has some resonance for the Jewish soul.

Who among us has not been party to an embarrassing uncle at a deli who remarks, upon seeing the cannon-ball-like diameter of a matzo ball, “You could knock a grown man out with this”?

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].

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