I did not grow up in a religious household. I did go to Talmud Torah (Hebrew school) but initially signed up for it only because I could leave regular class an hour early each week. There I studied language and history but never really attended junior congregation that I can remember. Once a year, on Rosh Hashanah, I would get dressed up like most of my friends and run in and out of the rooms at our temple or played street games with hazelnuts. Later that day I would sneak out with my father before the neighbors saw us and we would drive several hours to Montauk where we would go cod fishing on charter boats.

Although both of my parents came from immigrant and orthodox homes, only some traditional understandings remained. My mother didn’t rigidly enforce kosher laws but she wouldn’t allow ham products in the house either. It would be years before I tasted real bacon although indulging me in my request, she served me beef fry with my scrambled eggs. Her only other surrender to me was Maypo cereal – a tasting choice I regretted after trying it.

But Fridays were different – Friday was the Shabbos meal.

It would start after I came home from school. By then, my mother had already prepared the yellow discs of dough for blintzes that she laid out on kitchen towels in the dining room. Later she would fill them with cheese or fruit, wrap them tightly, and fry them in an oversized skillet.

A silvered cast-iron food grinder would be clamped to the edge of the table and she would bring out bowls of chicken livers, eggs, bread crumbs, and slices of white bread. Then she would watch me from the kitchen as I fed each into the grinder, turning the handle after each addition and every now and then tap me on the shoulder to show me what to add next.

For the main meal she would make roast chicken, baked potatoes, and vegetables but when setting the table, she also put out fresh, braided challah loaves with bowls of sour pickle slices on the side. I would always sneak a piece of the bread and and piling a layer of pickle slices on top, fold the slice closed, and then bite into the soft center, tasting the sweetness of the baked dough and the sharp snap of the briny cucumbers.

By 7 PM my father would come home from his service station, change into regular clothes from his uniform and place his brown shtek shoes (slippers) on his feet. Then he would come to the table where he would sit with me and my mother for the Friday night meal.

I still have the food grinder, wooden bowl, and hand chopper, now wrapped inside one of her old kitchen towels and stored in my basement. It’s a small inheritance – but rich in the tradition of the old country with memories of family meals shared at a covered table in a small apartment in Brooklyn.

Welcoming_the_shabbatWelcoming the Shabbat
by Elena Flerova

Liliana at Gracious Living Day by Day writes of her own family meals…

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