It is the week of Jewish Purim celebration and of hamantaschen baking. My condensed version of the Jewish holiday is: they tried to get rid of us, we overcame, we baked cookies, now let’s eat. Cookies as the ultimate Jewish agency.
This week stirred also another Jewish cookie tale. The Davelaar bakery announced to the world that they will change their famous Jewish butter cookie (Jodekoek) into ode butter cookie (Odekoek). Google a bit and you will find that the Jewish butter cookie has been around in the Netherlands since the 19th century and that it points back to a Sefardic tradition (flat cookies with high fat content and without water or yeast). It is also a popular supermarket delicacy.
The seemingly innocent linguistic twist looks like a pun at first sight, and then warrants some second thoughts. The name change does not happen out of the blue. It seems to fit in a line of changes of product names that conveyed racist stereotypes through consumer products. The Davelaar Jodekoek’s new owner really liked the ‘beautiful brand and the beautiful history…’ And then: ‘… but we did want to contribute to a more inclusive society by changing the name of the cookie’.
Can we rewind this? Contribute to ‘a more inclusive society?’ In an age of cultural politics, changing a product name is not just a matter of changing a wrapper. Several national newspapers ran an article, and hundreds of people reacted. Dutch Jewish organisations were fast to react apologetically that they did not ask for this name change. I wondered: what reaction is appropriate? And should we not ask for a reversal?
Removing derogatory names from products like ‘the negro’s kiss’ for a cream filled chocolate is undoubtedly a meaningful act, because everyday racisms is conveyed through everyday language. But removing ‘Jewish’ from ‘butter cookies’? Are we witnessing an ode to an inclusive society, or rather the opposite: a splendid erasure of the visibility of a living Jewish culture as part and parcel of Dutch history?
While contemplating, I try to purchase a box of Davelaar jodekoeken (the original!) online, but they are hard to get. The website reminds me that I have to accept their cookies first. Sure I will, but not just any cookies.