Bankes or באַנקעס

Cupping in the Old Country

In the last few years, my mother told me that her father had a set of “bankes”, pronounced BAHN-kis.

The ancient practice of cupping was known in Yiddish as bankes by Ashkenazim (also transliterated as bonkes, bahnkes or other spelling variants). Bankes was a popular form of respiratory system healing practiced by folk healers in Eastern Europe. Many yizkor memory books tell of the local feldsher, or medic, rushing off to see a patient and carrying his (or her) black leather doctor’s bag under an arm. The bag held many tools of the medic's trade including sets of bankes. Feldshers (and other folk healers) would apply these glass cups to an ailing patient's back as treatment for a cold or other relevant condition.

My mother’s story came as a complete surprise to me. I’d been having TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine ) cupping treatments for years and never once guessed that this remedy that felt so comforting and relaxing was something my Eastern European family had been practicing for generations.

Bankes in a Ukrainian shtetl (Control+F to search for the term "bankes"):