New lifestyle trends in the 19th and 20th centuries transformed Jewish food culture. Public life moved to cafés and restaurants. The development of secular social organisations triggered the establishment of mass-eateries: soup kitchens and children’s diners. New political ideologies and the values they promoted also affected eating.

Diners sitting at a restaurant table

Warsaw, 1919-1939
National Digital Archive, Warsaw


At the turn of the 20th century, the significance of public sphere began to grow and with it a metropolitan café culture emerged. Jews played a vital role in its creation. Those who were open to assimilation and acculturation used to sit at popular venues, engaging in heated debates on art, politics, culture and the challenges of everyday life. People more attached to tradition used to visit Jewish restaurants and eateries which served kosher meals.

Café culture

Shachar Pinsker, a historian at the University of Michigan, discusses the history of coffeehouses and coffee, the development of big-city coffeehouse culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Jewish participation in its creation.
  • Łącz Restaurant

    Białystok, 1919-1939.
    National Digital Archive, Warsaw
  • Romanisches Café

    Berlin, 1925, photo: Herbert Hoffmann.
    Das Bundesarchiv, Berlin
  • Karol Wilhelm Albrecht at the Mała Ziemiańska Cafe which he owned

    Warsaw, 1919-1939.
    National Digital Archive, Warsaw

New ideologies

In the late 19th century new political ideologies—Zionism and Jewish Socialism (Bundism)—emerged and exerted a huge influence on the transformation of Jewish life. The Bundists, who propagated secular culture, rejected the kashrut. Young Zionists, on the other hand, prepared themselves for emigrating to Palestine by learning how to cultivate land, promoting simple food and a communal way of life.
  • Members of the He-Halutz Zionist organisation having a meal break from working in the field

    Grodno, 1920.
    YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York
  • Member of the Yung Borochovostim Zionist organisation at the hakhshara dining hall

    Płock, 1933-1934.
    Ghetto Fighters’ House Archives, Lohamei HaGeta'ot
  • Communal dining hall at the hakhshara of the Yung Borochovostim organisation

    Łódź, 1919-1939.
    Ghetto Fighters’ House Archives, Lohamei HaGeta'ot
  • Employees behind the counter of a restaurant located in a Jewish quarter of Warsaw

    The venue was frequented mainly by the members of the Jewish workers’ Bund. 1918-1939.
    YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York

Mass-produced food

In the early 20th century, particularly after the First World War, the role of social organizations grew significantly. They provided aid to impoverished members of the Jewish population thanks to both the support offered by landsmanshaftn abroad and the money collected by political parties. Social organizations ran nurseries and orphanages, and founded credit unions. They also distributed food and organized dining halls, which required a new approach to cooking.
  • Mealtime at a kindergarten affiliated with Ester Rubinstein elementary school

    Vilna, 1919-1939.
    Ghetto Fighters’ House Archives, Lohamei HaGeta'ot
  • Members of the Bet Lechem organisation handing out bread and challah to impoverished children

    Tomaszów Mazowiecki, 1919-1939.
    YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York
  • Children and staff during a meal at the summer children's sanatorium

    The Sanatorium was run by CISZO (Central Jewish School Organization). Falenica, 1919-1939.
    YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York
  • Dinning room in the Orphan's House (Dom Sierot)

    The orphanage was run by Janusz Korczak and Stefania Wilczyńska. Warsaw, 1928.
    Ghetto Fighters’ House Archives, Lohamei HaGeta'ot

Plate from a Jewish hospital in Sosnowiec

Glazed faience, Giesche Porcelain Factory, Katowice, 1925-1929. nscription on the plate: “Jüdisches Krankenhaus (Jewish Hospital)”.
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
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