Knaidel or kneydl? Knaidlach or kneydlakh? All are Yiddish for a type of dumpling, today most commonly the beloved matzah ball, but only one was the winning word at the National Spelling Bee in DC this week.
Thirteen-year-old Arvind Mahankali of Bayside Hills, NY, won the 86th annual competition by correctly spelling this traditional Ashkenazic treat after coming in third the past two competitions. Savoring his win, Arvind said his participation in the spelling bee was “life-changing.” But will his victory change how anyone feels about the spelling of that winning word?
In Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen, the word is “kneydlakh” with four distinct syllables: k-ney-d-lakh. DC native Diane Abelman Wattenberg remembers, “That’s what our family called them. And we called the ones someone in our family made ‘cannon balls.’ “
Laura Cohen Apelbaum, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, exclaims that when she heard the news about the spelling bee, “I couldn’t believe it. When I call matzah balls “knaidels” my husband makes fun of me!” By the way, she’s also a native of the DC area and one of Diane’s cousins. Hmmmm…wonder if hers are sinkers or floaters?
No matter how you spell it, all this talk of matzah balls is making me hungry. Think I’ll check out Chef Todd Gray’s recipe for Not Exactly Aunt Lil’s Matzah Ball Soup and enjoy some in Arvind’s honor.