Chicken soup is the mother of all cures.
— Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel, of the Rohr Chabad at Arizona State University, quoted in the Arizona Republic
With January ushering in the heart of what winter-haters fear will be another miserable, frigid season that goes on far too long, it’s time to chat about the one food that will provide us with guaranteed comfort over the next few months.
Hint: It’s been called Jewish penicillin, and we have fond memories of how good it felt going down when it was made by our mothers and grandmothers, especially when we were sick.
I’m talking, of course, about chicken soup, unquestionably the most medicinally beneficial hot meal ever invented.
This much-celebrated Jewish food recently received even more nationwide attention when the subjects of a story published in the Arizona Republic in September were featured on network telecasts. The story told about a program run by Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel and his wife, Chana, of the Rohr Chabad at Arizona State University. The couple, who started the Rohr Chabad 15 years ago as a place for Jewish students to hang out, study and have Shabbat dinner, are now delivering chicken soup with matzah balls for free to sick students.
Similar efforts are being made by Hillels at other campuses nationwide, including at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, the University of Chicago, Michigan State University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan, according to a blog on the Hillel website.
These chicken soup “hot-lines” have only added to the legend and mystique of the miracle-like elixir, which has been making people feel better for millennia. Interest in “The Soup,” in fact, is higher than ever today, with Google searches turning up over 61 million results for “chicken soup,” nearly 69 million for “chicken soup recipes” and 1.7 million for the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books.
I started thinking a lot about the joys of chicken soup while dealing with what’s become an annual pre-winter “tradition” of mine: a stubborn sinus infection that causes congestion and a nagging cough.
Finding a cure this time required two rounds of medications and an inhaler, which eventually helped, but not quickly enough, and that’s where “The Soup” saved the day. The only thing that gave me instant relief was my wife’s version, which is loaded with bite-sized chicken pieces, vegetables (carrots, celery and onions), boiled potatoes and Kosher noodles. Eating it with a couple of pieces of fresh challah made for an especially satisfying meal, and it tasted even better on the last night of Hanukkah, when my wife made both her soup and latkes.
There are plenty of reasons why people believe chicken soup makes us feel better, but as Rabbi Tiechtel said in the Arizona Republic article, the secret lies in not merely The Soup, but in the fact that someone has made it for you — and that’s the genius behind the soup outreach to college students.
Under the program at Arizona State, chicken soup is delivered to students’ dorms or apartments within a couple of hours of making a request.
“It does wonders,” the rabbi said. “This really gives them that sense that someone cares, that they are not alone.”
There’s a lot of truth to that, because let’s face it, when we’re sick, a trip to an urgent care center or a doctor’s office is an impersonal way to get treatment. But having a hot meal made just for you will almost always make you feel just a little bit better.
I still vividly remember how much better I felt one Thanksgiving in the ’70s, thanks to an unexpected delivery of food. I was single and living in Florida. I had come down with a nasty cold and was feeling pretty lousy, until there was a knock on my door. It was a friend surprising me with a loaf of freshly baked bread.
That’s why, even after three decades of marriage, my wife’s chicken soup tastes better when I’m sick than it does when I’m healthy. There’s no better way for her to say “I’m sorry you’re sick” than to make a pot of The Soup, which lifts the spirits and boosts the body, mind and soul infinitely better than any medication or over-the-counter cold remedy ever could.
LARRY KESSLER is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.