Category Archives: Aba
If you have ever been to Israel, whether you are Jewish or not, you have most probably visited the Kotel, the Western Wall. And whether it is your first time, or your 100th time, you probably every now and again leave a little note for God, stuffed in the cracks of the wall.
I have just lit the yahrzeit candle for my father. Tonight and tomorrow is his yahrzeit, 8 years since he passed away, according to the Jewish calendar. He had had problems with his heart his whole life. First it was broken in the Holocaust. His family was wiped away, most of them taken off to Auschwitz. In the late 40s he patched it together and found, loved and married my mother. In the 60s my parents adopted first me, and then my brother, and each time my father’s heart grew stronger, strengthened by family, the one thing that made life worth living for him.
It was in the late Seventies that he had his first heart attack. Another two followed in the 80s, and an “incident” in the 90s. In 2002 he had a quadruple bypass. He survived the surgery, but complications set in, hindered his recuperation, and he died six weeks later.
My father always said that he felt he was given a second chance at life. He loved life, and taught me and my brother that it was precious and not to be wasted. He so desperately wanted to live in Israel, but my mother had had enough wandering and he settled down with her in New York, and lived vicariously through me and my life in Israel. He once told me that it made him so happy that my children were the first members of our family in two thousand years to be born in the Jewish homeland.
So because my father loved life, revered it, I have chosen to celebrate his life on his yahrzeit, not to mourn him. Every year I cook up a big Hungarian feast, making all the foods he loved, and we invite friends and sit down at the table and raise a glass to a life almost extinguished, but brought back into the light.
Last year my father’s yahrzeit fell on the day that I was traveling to the States to clean out my mother’s apartment after she died. I didn’t have the time, and being deep in mourning for my mother, the inclination to put on a festive meal. So I went to a Hungarian bakery and bought some cakes and we celebrated the sweetness in life with the sweetness of Hungarian pastry. This year, this week, on this day my life, both vocational and personal, has taken a turn for the busy. Very busy. So on my way home from work I stopped off at that bakery once more and brought home some kyortosh, which isn’t really a Hungarian pastry, but is making a splash here in Israel as one. My father, who enjoyed a sweet nosh just as much as a savory bowl of my mother’s gulyas, would have enjoyed a bit with a hot cup of coffee, I know it.
Something else my father used to enjoy was singing songs in Hebrew, any song. Badly. My father so could not sing, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying him serenading me with a little Numi Numi each night as he put me to bed. And later on, after we had traveled to Israel for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, the song Rak B’Yisrael got stuck in his head and we all had to listen to him singing that as he sat reading the paper. And davka today my attention was brought to something that my father would have loved. I have a collection of photos on Facebook, and album called Only in Israel, filled with pictures that are unique to our sometimes odd but always wonderful and country. My friend Judi sent me an email to congratulate me, my Facebook album has been set to music and has been turned into a YouTube video. Here’s the link. My father would have loved it!
One of the things I love about Judaism, and being Jewish, is the subjectivity of it all. Yes, there are rules that say do this, don’t do that, but there is also a lot that is open to interpretation. How you go about your relationship with God, your relationship with your family and your community is left up to you. Within the circle you have chosen to live in, your religion is your own.
Growing up in my parents’ house I was shown both side of the religious coin. My father grew up ultra-Orthodox, he had the requisite peyot (side curls), the right intonation when he prayed and he was a rabbi who taught small children to love the Torah. He lived in a small village in Hungary where everyone knew everyone else. And then his entire world was ripped apart. He lost his family, he lost his community, his livelihood, and as the Holocaust did to so many, he lost his religion. He took off his hat, cut off his peyot, and lost his faith in God.
My mother, on the other hand, grew up in a home that didn’t have the relationship with God that my father had. My mother grew up in a secular household, where there was a Jewish tradition, but as they say, it was more of a guideline than a rule. She lived in Vilna, the capital of Lithuania and the center of Litvak culture, a cosmopolitan town. And then her entire world was ripped apart. She lost her family, she lost her childhood, and she lost her trust in everyone, especially in God. The Nazis did such horrible things to my mother, that when she was liberated she was malnourished, ill, and would never be able to have children.
She and my father were both refugees in Sweden. How they met has become family legend. My mother was keeping house for my grandfather, a furrier. My father was living with his 4 surviving brothers and sisters and they decided to get my Aunt Toby a fur collar for her coat for her birthday. My father was the one who stopped by my grandfather’s house to place the order. He saw a picture of my mother on the hall table, and my grandfather couldn’t help but boast of his daughter who took care of him and cooked him the most amazing meals. My father was told to come back a week later… which he did… at dinner time. My parents were married a year later.
For 13 years they took the ashes of their lives and rebuilt them into a life together. They immigrated to the States in the late 50s, and then, one day, I arrived in their lives. The adoption of a daughter changed them forever, and my father, who had lost his faith, found it again. But my mother, who didn’t start out on the same page religiously, was not ready to follow. My father let her be, and she let him be. I grew up in a home where religion, as well as secularism, was not only tolerated, but respected. My mother kept a kosher home for my father, and he let her live her life in the way she felt she needed to live. I have very interesting memories of my mother making the blessing on the Shabbat candles, and then lighting her cigarette off those very candles. There are those who will be shocked at this, but in our house, that was how we all got along.
What happens when two irresistible forces meet? The forces can’t resist each other, so they combine into one irresistible force. This irresistible force became our family, and the interpretation of religion in the end always centered around the table. My mom was the most amazing cook, and no matter how you felt about God, Judaism or life in general, her dinners took you to heaven.
This past Shabbat was the first yahrzeit (anniversary) of my mother’s death. I’ve written before how I’ve subjectively taken this year of mourning to be meaningful to me. My father died eight years ago and every year on his yahrzeit I celebrate his life with a Hungarian dinner. This year, the first yahrzeit for my mother, I cooked a dinner in her honor which I hope would make her proud of me. We had good friends over for dinner on Friday night, my daughters Tinky and Didi were there, and Ju-Boy gave a wonderful speech about a woman he never met in life, but knew so well through the love of cooking she passed on to me. He mentioned how the irresistible force of my father’s faith and the irresistible force of my mother’s lack of belief met together to create an irresistible force of respect. My father taught me to love books, my mother taught me to love cooking (and feeding), but together they taught me to respect your partner, your children, your family and your fellow travelers in life.
My mother served this at least every other Shabbat. The wonderful nutty flavor of kasha (buckwheat) will always bring me back instantly to the warm Friday night table, candles lit, my father making kiddush on annoyingly sweet wine and my mother hovering over the stove, ready to serve up her amazing food. I suppose you could say she found her religion in the kitchen.
- 2-3 tablespoons oil (my mother used shmaltz)
- 2 large onions, diced
- 1 cup kasha
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 cups chicken soup
- salt and pepper to taste
- 8 ounces (250 grams) bow tie pasta, cooked
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until brown and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover to keep warm. Do not clean the pot.
- Combine the kasha with the beaten egg until completely coated. Heat the pot over medium heat and add the egg-coated kasha. Keep stirring to keep the grains separate and cook for about 3-4 minutes until the kasha becomes dry and toasted.
- Add the chicken soup and stir. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat and cook for about 10-15 minutes until the kasha is tender and all the water has been absorbed. Stir with a fork to fluff.
- Add the onions and mix well. Add in the cooked bow ties. Toss well and serve.
One of my subjective interpretations of Judaism was how I went about my year of mourning. One of the traditions I took upon myself was not to cut my hair for the whole year. When my mother died my hair really needed cutting to start with, so you can imagine how long it grew. Tonight my daughter Tinky cut my hair. She’s been studying hairdressing at one of the most prestigious schools in Israel, and since I’ve been paying the tuition I suppose you could say this was my most expensive haircut ever…
As I’ve posted before, last October my mother passed away. One minute I was worriedly calling her social worker, the next I was an orphan.
I have now lost both my parents. I really do hate that term, lost. I didn’t lose them, they are always with me. I constantly find my father in his sifrei kodesh (holy books), which I inherited, especially in his tikkun, which, as the ba’al koreh of his synagogue, he read from every day. One Friday night not long ago, Ju-Boy was asking Biblical trivia at the supper table. I disagreed with a certain interpretation and was able to prove my point by taking out my father’s book of Bereshit (Genesis) and show him the exact Rashi commentary that proved me right. The father/daughter team was triumphant!
I find my mother in her kitchen utensils which I now proudly use regularly. I use the same hochmesser and wooden bowl she used to chop onions (and liver). I even cut my fingers in the same places she did. I can imagine as I reflexively place my wounded finger in my mouth that my mother is kissing it all better.
In Judaism, when you “lose” a parent, you enter a one year mourning period. There are many traditions one can adopt as to how to spend this year in both honoring and mourning your parent. Some of the traditions I have adopted are:
I don’t go to the movies or attend concerts or other live performances
I keep a yahrzeit candle that lasts for seven days going all year long, lighting a new one each week on Friday as I light the Shabbat candles
I don’t attend any kind of celebration (I’m missing some good ones this year, including tonight’s wedding of the daughter of dear friends)
I am not cutting my hair for the entire year of mourning
People are usually surprised by that last one. It’s a rare tradition, although not unheard of. And it’s driving me crazy. I feel I need to do this, just one way to honor my mother, who loved my long hair, loved to brush and braid it. She would spend hours detangling my long, knotted hair after a bath. While my mother would have thought I was insane to miss out on parties on her behalf, I know she would have appreciated the effort I’m making in not cutting my hair.
I have been blessed with a head full of thick, wavy, unruly, very much a-mind-of-its-own hair. It grows like a weed, it’s already halfway down my back. Every day I try to coax it into some kind of order. When I clean my brush I pull out more hair than most people have on their entire heads. And it gets everywhere. I try to clean out the drains before the family gets totally grossed out, but some a lot escapes, only to remind me later by completely clogging up the sink.
A solution my mother used to use for as long as I can remember…
Drain Cleaner and Declogger
- Pour baking soda into drain.
- Follow with vinegar.