The story of the unhappy kugel

IMG_3985When Val asked me to make a kugel for this year’s communal Yom Kippur “Break the Fast” at the Aloha Jewish Chapel, I was excited to do so. I immediately thought of the recipe that I have for my mother’s kugel that she served at each of our family’s holiday meals (except Passover) and the memory fueled my excitement.

Her kugel is sweet and simple and incredibly delicious: pecans, butter, brown sugar, eggs and egg noodles. How can you go wrong? While not difficult to make, it takes a reasonable amount of time and a little bit of patience.

Years ago I looked up the meaning of kugel, confused by the different specimens I’ve tasted. I wondered how my mother’s noodle kugel could relate to the potato one served at Passover and the plethora of versions at other people’s holiday tables. Internet sources describe it as a pudding. I am inclined to suggest the word casserole—but not of the tuna variety.

I planned ahead for this one, buying the ingredients on my weekly trip to the commissary the Sunday before Yom Kippur. I set aside time to make it on Tuesday afternoon, before we went out to dinner and to services for Kol Nidre. There was no way I was going to bake a kugel on Wednesday afternoon, the same day I was fasting. Regardless of the fact that it would be inappropriate to cook on Yom Kippur, I knew that the enticing aroma of all of those delicious ingredients coming together in a spectacular kugel would be more than I could bear in my VERY hungry state before Yiskor and Ne’ilah. It would definitely slow the fast.

I timed it perfectly and it was the most beautiful kugel I had ever created. It felt so good to look at it and see visions of all the kugels that had come before at Gershun celebrations. It truly was my mother’s kugel. I finally had the right combination of ingredients, timing and patience to make this great achievement. I left it on the counter, slightly covered, to cool and would put it in the refrigerator when we returned from Tuesday evening services.

When we returned, before putting it in the ice-box, I decided to take a picture of the kugel next to the flames of the burning yahrtzeit candles lit for my mother and father. Maybe I’d post it on Facebook? Or maybe I’d just send the picture to my sisters so that they could kvell with me on this great achievement. Whatever the intent, perhaps it is my hubris that became a tragic flaw and led to the unhappy conclusion of this almost perfect story.

After I snapped a few shots of the holiday kugel (thank goodness I took a picture). I picked up the glass plate on which it rested, turned to the refrigerator, slipped a bit and dropped the whole thing on our stone tile floor. The glass plate splintered in tiny pieces. spraying across the kitchen floor and into the hallway. The kugel plunked straight down, lying in tact on the floor below my feet. It’s golden top sparkled with shards of the pyrex dish and I reluctantly imagined what lay beneath. It became unfit for any palate, let alone a holiday meal. My dreams of the perfect kugel shattered before my very eyes.

The end isn’t so sad. My husband helped me clean it up. The next day I showed Val the picture and told her the story. She shed a tear for my mother’s kugel, but understood. She suggested mac and cheese. No problem. After morning services, I easily whipped up a pan. No memories were invoked as it did not have the familiar delicious aroma to tease me. Services were nice, not too long. We wished each other G’mar chatimah tovah and broke the fast together as a community.

I’m the only one who really missed the kugel that holds so many memories of my mom and dad and the new years and ends of years that our family shared together.

L’Shanah Tovah.

 

Just my type

When my friend Paula told me that I can send a recipe in the original handwriting of my mother, or grandmother, or other beloved person to be transformed into a dish towel that is a replica of that particular recipe card or scrap of paper, I thought that sounded pretty cool.  I imagined sending my mother’s chopped liver recipe and ordering dish towels for me and my sisters for Chanukkah. My mother’s chopped liver resides in fond memory for us three Gershun girls (more than washing dishes) and I continue the tradition of  “chopping the liver” each year for our holiday celebrations. The dish towels would be a nice gift.

I went digging in my recipe drawer to look for the index card sent by my mother almost 25  years ago, when I first moved to Hawaii and wanted to make chopped liver for my local friends. I knew I would recognize her handwriting in an instant, the long slanted lines, often all capital letters, boldly stating the directions or her purpose. I remember quite distinctly the notes I would find on the kitchen counter after school: “Lorrie, I went to the store. The dishwasher is clean.” Translated: “EMPTY THE DISHWASHER.” My mother was a librarian-back in the days when they had card catalogs. Her notes and To Do lists  usually came with a title, on the back of a discarded catalog card or index card. At least she listed my chores in basic numerical order and not by Dewy decimals or the Library of Congress.

I rifled carefully through the drawer, but couldn’t find the chopped liver recipe. I came across another that she also sent many years ago. She called it, “RECIPE OF SOUP WITH WHATEVER YOU HAVE HANDY.” It is her directions for using the Manishewitz soup mixes that come in the long packets with barley and beans or peas, another delicious childhood food memory. As soon as I saw it, I was disappointed and thrilled at the same time. The recipe was typed, on an index card of course. It wouldn’t make for a very memorable dish towel, but it served as a reminder  that she used to type EVERYTHING –and brought back so many more memories, making it totally worth leaving the dishes on the rack to dry.

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Not only was she famous in our family for her chopped liver, she was also renowned for her typing prowess. My mother typed fast–over a hundred words a minute…before the electric typewriter. We had one of those  black, cast iron, heavy old things settled on an old metal typing table and the rhythm of the tap, tap, tap of her fingers on the keys and the ding of the carriage return were the late night lullabies after bedtime for much of my childhood.

Untitled-2My father earned his law degree while I was in elementary school and she typed his papers for him late into the night. When I was in the sixth grade, she went back to graduate school. Once again, she typed late into the night, her fingers dancing on the keyboard, as she pursued the master’s degree that led her to become a librarian and plague me with those notes so carefully crafted on the backs of catalog cards. She deftly used correction fluid  and those small slips of powdery white tape to correct her mistakes and carbon paper so that there were duplicates of their work.

Typing was big in our family. During the summer before ninth grade, each Gershun girl took a keyboarding class so that we could appropriately turn in typed essays and term papers during our high school careers. My parents’ Midwestern upbringings influenced their commitment to proper form in our casual Southern California surroundings. Handwriting was fitting for thank you notes and To Do lists, formal communication needed to be typed.

My mother even typed the excuse notes that I’d take to school after an absence. Don’t tell my kids this, but it made it easier for me to cut class once or twice in high school, before I got caught. I typed the note and scribbled her name in cursive and was good to go–or leave–as the case may be, until the excuse slip actually slipped out of my backpack, onto the floor of the dining room at home, and my mother found it. There was no excuse for this kind of behavior. So much for my clever plan.

A lot of kids in my high school senior class received cars or trips to Hawaii for graduation gifts. I got a typewriter–electric. It was a state of the art model that had a correcting tape cartridge that interchanged with the black ribbon cassette for speedy proofreading and editing. Just as college bound kids take laptop computers with them today, I marched off to the dorms with my typewriter in hand, ready to pound out prolific term papers and essays late into the night. It also served as a source of income as I typed others’ papers, charging a dollar a page.

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Over the years, my mother evolved with the technology. She pursued her PhD with an IBM Selectric with that ball instead of type bars, so that she could whiz about the keyboard even faster.

th-3 She kind of slowed down when the word processor was introduced and never quite got the hang of her Apple computer, cursing that *!!$% thing as it posed one challenge too many. Not to mention the #$#@$ printer.

Luckily, by then, her girls had long since graduated from college, women earning their own degrees, well adapted to whatever keyboard might come their way.  She didn’t really need to type very much at this point and had basic email skills. I can’t even imagine what she would say about text messaging.

I wish I could find the original chopped liver recipe on that index card that she sent to me. I’ve done it by heart for so long that I lost track of the directions. I made one last-ditch effort to see if it was nestled in the box that holds the hand-held meat grinder that she also sent for optimal liver chopping. The recipe wasn’t there, but I was cheerfully greeted by her hand writing on the top of the box, true to form, in all caps: “PARTS FOR MEAT GRINDER.”

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I’m sure my sisters won’t mind that I don’t have dishtowels to send them for Chanukkah, as none of us particularly enjoys doing dishes and neither did our mother. We are just not that type. It’s nice that it led me to this memory to share, a holiday greeting from our mom, both handwritten and  in typeface–proofread and edited for perfection–just for us.

 

 

I am thankful for Thanksgivukkah

My sister and brother-in-law were featured on one of Kansas City’s news shows for their family’s “Thansgivukkah” celebration. Click here to see the story.

My husband and I watched the clip together. We like what she said about the connection between the two holidays in terms of religious freedom and thankfullness. We talked about how much we agree with her–and not just because she is my sister.  I mentioned how much I appreciate that this year Chanukkah is connected with Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. The two seem to have so much more in common for us.

My husband suggested that if Chanukkah fell near Thanksgiving on a regular basis, in America, the Jewish holiday would take on traditions more associated with Thanksgiving instead of how, for many families, it has morphed into another version of a secular Christmas. Instead of Chanukkah bushes we’d have menurkeys, instead of giving presents, we’d give thanks.

As did my family last night, like most of the Jewish families we know, we’d serve latkes with our Thanksgiving feast and add jelly donuts to our dessert selection. We’d offer a cornucopia of fried foods.

Instead of every few hundred years, we’d do it every year. And we’d keep doing it for hundreds and thousands more.

It wouldn’t require a complete Thaksgivukkah, starting exactly on Thanksgiving every year. That would be way too contrived (American?). It could simply be in the same vicinity on the calendar to develop a strong relationship between the two holidays. Granted, Thanksgiving is an US holiday which would probably cause the traditions to develop only in American related culture. But I’m thinking that it’s pretty much also in America where Chanukkah has taken on such a gentile charm, including the extreme materialism so closely associated with capitalism.

If only we could rewrite history.

Meanwhile, I have to say that I am very thankful that Chanukkah and Thanksgiving very politely collided to transform into Thanksgivukkah this year. For me, it was perfect timing, gently uplifting me out of what can only be described as a holiday slump, delivering a pleasant resolution to my conflicting feelings that began with the early arrival of Rosh Hashanah in September.

Until I was preparing and actually cooking for this holiday, I was not comfortable with the early schedule our lunar calendar served up in 5774 . On September 5,  I was just putting away my white clothes after Labor Day, barely finished rejoicing in my favorite season, the summer and not even near ready to embrace my least favorite, the fall.

It was way to soon to think about new year’s resolutions and reflection and atonement. It sent me into a state of shock, perhaps inertia. Thrust upon me way before I was ready, my process was a bit delayed.

Thank goodness for the process, even if a bit slow. I wasn’t ready in September or October, but in Thanksgivukkah I found pleasure and connection, emerging renewed and refreshed. I feel very thankful for the amazing blessings we share, too many to count or list, and more than enough to rejuvenate, revitalize and stimulate my languishing spirit.

I am glad this holiday came so early. It was perfect timing. Another perk being that we are done. I find myself fortified for the onslaught to come, the commercialism that grows and threatens to overtake even the spirit of Thanksgiving if we let it. December will come to me and my family without the frantic anticipation and preparation that begins earlier and earlier each year.

I, for one, will remain placidly disengaged next month, avoiding the malls, their parking lots and surrounding traffic. My usual annoyance that retail stores have been displaying Christmas decorations since before Halloween and the blatant ignorance for the next 25 days or so and that there is more to some people’s lives than this one enormous holiday, will not emerge.

It has been replaced. Instead, I will let the wonderful grace of this special Thanksgivukkah fill me with patience and serenity. I will wish others a happy holiday, knowing that mine was supremely wonderful.

Thank goodness the holiday came early this year. For Thanksgivukkah, I am truly Thankful.

This is how we do it…

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A New Year’s greeting- T’shuvah, T’filah, Tzedakah

It is not news that much of Oahu’s Jewish community has been in turmoil lately. The Honolulu Star Advertiser covered some of it in stories that were published last month. As with any conflict, there is a lot more to it than the newspaper reporter can capture or communicate in a few articles.

Recent events have made a huge impact on our family. While my husband and I have much to say and this topic tends to dominate our dinner table discussion and other daily conversations, I am conflicted about what to post. My personal perspective and disappointment leave me feeling a bit paralyzed–not for action, but in finding the right words.

Our actions certainly speak for themselves. We quit our membership at Temple Emanu-El Honolulu. For us, it’s about the process, which was anything but transparent.

It’s about the disparity between control and leadership. It’s about the fact that the leadership made their decisions based on only one perspective and completely disregarded any sense of compromise with or consideration of ours. It’s about zero tolerance for  leaders who resort to bullying and physical abuse to get their way.

The Sunday School deteriorated from bad to worse and they refused to address the issue in a timely manner due to their single-minded agenda in regards to getting rid of the Rabbi. It has not been as amicable as some might suggest.

We will not be a part of the Temple Emanu-El congregation for the beginning of 5772. We will attend High Holy Days services at Aloha Jewish Chapel where my husband and I met over nine years ago. Our courtship was spent celebrating Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the seats of this congregation.  We have returned each year for Shabbat services and holidays. Our family will reflect on the past year and welcome in the new one from those same seats.

I will embrace this time for t’shuvah (repentance,) t’filah (prayer,) and tzedakah (justice.)

I found some cool thoughts on this in “The Torah In Haiku” on an RJ blog and am happy to share it with you.

My friend Toby sent a link to a You Tube video that is worth sharing. It’s a nice new year greeting and the sentiment is warm.

L’shanah Tovah U M’Tukah.

Where were you on 9/11?

For my parents, the question was what were you doing when you heard the news that JFK was shot.

For my generation, it is about remembering where we were on September 11, 2001 at those awful moments when planes crashed into the World Trade Center, or during the ensuing destruction and horrible aftermath that were all caught on video.

My response to the question is a confession. I was asleep.

In the spirit of T’shuvah, I must ask for forgiveness. Not from one particular person, per say. Just forgiveness. And of course it comes in the form of a story.

Last July, my husband and I spent a few days in New York City. We have both made many trips to the city before this one, playing tourists, taking our kids to Broadway plays, standing in line for the elevator to go to the top of the Empire State Building, visiting the Museum of Natural History and indulging ourselves at Dylan’s Candy Bar. We’ve also taken both kids to Ground Zero. We’d pretty much covered most of the main landmarks, until this summer.

This summer we visited the 9/11 Memorial.

And this is where my words fail me. I can only share vain attempts at capturing what it felt like to be there.  While I have rave reviews in appreciation for the logistics of its design in terms of accessibility and crowd management, I’ll save that for another post.

For some reason I keep thinking of Percy Shelley’s poem, “Mont Blanc,” that I studied in high school and college and haven’t thought much about since then. The feelings that nature inspired  him to write about in that poem, are similar to the feelings that the memorial inspired in me. The memorial is awe-inspiring, deep, untouchable, sad and beautiful. All at the same time.

I also had a revelation, which leads me to the confession part.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was asleep when the phone rang at about 5:30 a.m.. It was my mother. She  had called to ask me if I knew what was going on and to tell me to turn on the T.V.. I got mad at her for waking me up. I watched for a few minutes and went back to sleep and did not click the T.V. back on until later.

The morning of September 11, 2001 was in the middle of one of the biggest personal crisis of my life. I was in the throes of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad divorce.

I had recently evicted my first husband from our house. I was afraid for my safety. Armed only with the meager protection of a restraining order, I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep and was generally a mess. My daughter was only four years old and the tension and change in our home put her in a constant state of distress. All of my energy was spent taking care of her.

I had taken off work for a while to get our life together. From my perspective at the time, my mother, who knew that my life was in shambles,  chose to wake me up on one of the few mornings that I had actually had a chance to get a bit of sleep and she pissed me off. My feelings were hurt that she had been so inconsiderate.

Of course, by later in the day I  was much more coherent and realized why she had called. I began to pay attention to the events that played out on the television in my remote Wai’anae Valley home on the leeward coast of O’ahu. But not really.

Over the course of the next months I was vaguely aware of the course of the historical events, but it seemed so far away. I cared, but not with my heart. I was so selfishly wrapped up in the details of the most terrible thing that had ever happened to me and distracted by the tasks of putting  life back together for both me and my daughter, that I never made an emotional connection to the horrible magnitude of 9/11.

Not until this summer. Not until I visited the 9/11 Memorial.

Standing with my second husband next to the deep well of the memorial, reflecting on the names inscribed around it  and absorbing the profound spirit that the quiet space evokes, I filled with regret.

I should have paid more attention….with my heart. I am sorry.

When we took photos at the memorial I couldn’t bring myself to smile for the camera. It felt disrespectful. I needed to assume a solemn pose, one that reflected in my demeanor the heaviness that I felt inside. I needed to honor those that were lost and those that were heroes during this grave moment of our history. I  am sorry that I didn’t do it sooner.

During the same trip, I visited my friend, Anne Blumenstein, in New Jersey. Her grade school aged son was obsessed with the construction of the “Freedom Tower” and all factual information surrounding it, as some boys that age can be. Anne told me that the father of one of her son’s classmates had died in the World Trade Center while his mother had been pregnant with  the boy at the time. Thus Anne’s son’s keen interest and empathy. A whole new level for his generation’s  questions and stories.

Which leads me back to where I started and so I ask again, where were you on 9/11?

Sharing a piece of Shabbat Shalom

A lot of people who do not go to our Temple have asked me for updates since I posted about our turmoil last spring. All I can say is that the situation has not improved and it is very tumultuous  and stressful, thus not easy to write about. So I haven’t–and won’t—for now.

I will post this beautiful photo that my friend Linda sent me.

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She took it during Shabbat services last night at Kakaako Waterfront Park where Temple Emanu-El Honolulu holds Erev Shabbat Services several times during the summer months. We weren’t there, but are happy that Linda shared this wonderful piece of Shabbat.

It reminds me that peace is within our reach and is offered to us every week. I hope that all of our community are embracing it today and thoughts of tomorrow are in prayers for future Shabbat Shalom and L’shanah tovah u’metuchah, not a Temple in pieces.

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