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August 6, 2013


The iconic Israeli cocoa-based birthday cake known as Ugah Kushit (black cake) or Ugat Yomledet (birthday cake) would be a great treat for Rosh Hashanah. As this Rosh Hashanah commemorates 5774 years since the birth of the world, this delicacy belongs on our Yom Tov menus.


Israeli-born Yigal Ben Aderet remembers his Turkish-born mother baking this “big deal,” spongy, moist, chocolaty cake, sometimes frosted, sometimes with whipped cream. It was eaten with milk and/or dunked in milk. Yigal Rechtman recalls that the class mothers responsible for the treats for special occasions who were expert bakers on his kibbutz occasionally made the very dark, unfrosted, somewhat coarse, round cake with a hole in the middle for very special occasions. The last time he tasted it may have been when he became Bar Mitzvah in 1979. Winners of the community Purim lottery might have won such a cake, as he recalls.


Some Hebrew speakers would be concerned about this apparently un-PC name for the black cake, which actually comes from the word kushi, referring to a black person. The word is based on the biblical text mentioning Moses’s wife’s land of origin in the Kingdom of Cush in Africa, “And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman” (Numbers 12:1). The cake definitely has an exotic and ancient background.


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