A cross between a bowtie and a fossil, kichel doesn’t seem to have much to recommend it. Lacking the sweet icing of a black-and-white, the joyous colors of a rainbow cookie, or the fruity lushness of hamantaschen, kichel is nonetheless the quintessential Jewish cookie: It has been gracing synagogues’ kiddush tables after Shabbat services as far back as anyone can remember, widely ignored by even the hungriest of cookie-loving children. It is entirely possible that only a dozen of these cookies have ever existed, and these same dozen have been there all along, put out week after week. Kichel is dry and brittle, filled with air; how would anyone know if it was stale?
And yet. Something magical happens to Jews when they turn 40. Kichel suddenly becomes delicious. The faint whisper of sugar, the way it crumbles when you bite it, its legendary dryness practically crying out to be dunked in a cup of coffee—or, better yet, a glezele tey, a glass of tea. Let the children laugh; let the grown-ups eat kichel. What was once the butt of our youthful Shabbat jokes has become the best reason to come to synagogue.
Wayne Hoffman is executive editor of Tablet.