I am a classic second generation Holocaust survivor.
My third generation kids are unabashedly Jewish and unabashedly Israeli and I so wish my parents were around to see how I have raised my phoenixes out of the fires and ashes of the camps.
On the 2nd yahrzeit of my mom’s death, just a few remembrances of what I’ve written here before…
Rivki, who blogs at Life in the Married Lane, is running an inspirational series of interviews entitled Women Who Inspire Us. I am both flattered and honored that she asked me if I would take part in the series. If you are a regular reader of this blog, or know me personally, you don’t have to stretch your imagination very far to know whom I chose to talk about.
Summer. Yes, it’s hot out there. Summer in the Middle East, really hot out there. Summer in Ra’anana, hot, muggy and uncomfortably hot out there. So what are the two things that relax me the most in the summer? I like to slave over a hot stove, I like to bake things in the oven, and I like to knit and crochet. Granted, the AC needs to be working. Without the AC my favorite thing to do in the summer is to lie supine in bed, in a coma. Wake me in November.
It’s Mother’s Day today, and I miss my mom. Just thought you should know…
Famous Israeli saying:
אמא יש רק אחת
You only have one mother
True, or false?
Most people go through life with only one mother. I feel sorry for them, in a way. It’s wonderful to have a loving mother who nurtures you, loves you, spoils you… But what’s even better is two women who would do this for you.
I’m fortunate to have been blessed with two mothers. Okay, we’re not even going to go into the whole adoption issue, that’s doesn’t even enter into the equation here. First, there’s my mom. She may not have carried me under her heart for nine months, but she brought me home from the hospital, and that’s my mom.
When I was seven we spent a considerable time in Norway, and my Aunt Zipora, my father’s baby sister, came up from Israel to visit us. My father had told me stories about all his brothers and sisters back in Hungary, and I was thrilled to meet the aunt he spoke of so fondly. She brought me a book in Hebrew and we spent a lot of time reading the stories together.
When I was 16 we came out to Israel for the summer, for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. I was a rebellious teen, and you could have imagine just how embarrassed I was by my mom. She kept trying to get me to pose for pictures, she kept trying to buy me dorky clothes, she kept trying to keep me safe. How embarrassing! My Aunt Zipora, on the other hand, convinced my mom to let me go off to the beach by myself. She bought me the sandals that were the “in thing” back in 1979 Tel Aviv, and she taught me curse words in Hungarian!
Throughout the years, while I was in Israel as a kibbutz volunteer, a university student, a new immigrant, a new mom, a new divorcee, my Aunt Zipora was always there to support me in any decision. She became like a second mother to me. Since my girls didn’t have grandmothers who lived nearby — my mother lived in New York, their other grandmother in London — Zipora became a grandmother to them. When my father died in 2002 I went to the States for the funeral, and after my mother and I comforted each other I flew back to Israel and my aunt and I had another good cry together. When my mother died in 2009 my aunt was there to tell me stories of my parents’ early life together, pre-Miriyummy.
In 2005 I married for the second time. My mother couldn’t come out for the wedding, so I had the oddest pleasure in being walked down the aisle to the chuppah by my oldest daughter Sassy and my Aunt Zipora.
I grew up eating Hungarian food, but my Lithuanian mother used to drive me insane giving me recipes. You put in a bit of this, a bit of that. There were no measurements in my mother’s cooking style. With the help of my Aunt Zipora, who actually writes things down, I was able to approximate one of my favorite dishes:
This dish went by the name of káposztás tészta. I never managed to pronounce the second word correctly, and it all got shortened to Capostash when I put it into our Shabbat rotation. No one else seems to want to call it that, so Hungarian Noodles it is. Purists will rise up in outrage when they read what I’ve done to the recipe, but this is my blog, and my bastardized recipe, and I’m serving it at my table, so this is my Capostash!
Leave out the shmaltz and the kabanas to make this dish vegetarian/vegan.
- 500 grams bow-tie noodles, cooked until al dente
- 2 huge onions, coarsly shredded
- a few glugs of olive oil, or a chlop of shmaltz
- 1/2 head of green cabbage, coarsely shredded
- salt, pepper and paprika to taste
- 2 heaping tablespoons poppy seeds
- Optional: 3 kabanas, preferably by Tirat Zvi, cut up (thin, dried sausage)
- Caramelize the onions in the olive oil or shmaltz until darkly golden and soft.
- Add the cabbage and toss together with the onions until softened.
- Add the noodles and mix. You may need to add 1/4 – 1/3 cup of water to get it mixable. Add the salt, pepper and paprika and taste. When you have it juuuuuust right, add the poppy seeds and mix together. (Add the kabanas.) Serve hot.
- If you add the cut up kabanas it takes this dish to a whole new level. It’s not authentically Hungarian, but it’s authentically delicious!
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.
Back in May, for Mother’s Day, I posted an homage to my mother, who passed away in October 2009. At that time I referenced a recipe for shmaltz, but wrote that I don’t even have a picture to show you, since I don’t make it anymore. Well, I’ve started making shmaltz recently. I can hear God chuckling in the background, and I can hear my arteries hardening as well, but what a way to go!
I just made a batch. Ju-boy, a self-proclaimed parsimonious bastard, refuses to buy our chickens cut up by the butcher in the supermarket, saying they taste better if you roast them whole. He skins the chickies (yes, we roast our chickens naked) and gets rid of every available scrap of fat. Usually he tosses the chicken dross into the sink, intending to clean it out, usually ADD-ing on to some new project, leaving me to clean the sink (actually, he’s gotten better at this lately, so pretend I didn’t just say what I did). But for the last two weeks I’ve appealed to the parsimonious side of the Parsimonious Bastard, and convinced him that I should channel my mother and make some shmaltz.
So for all of you that haven’t been grossed out by the idea of rendered chicken fat, read on…
- chicken fat, cleaned from 3 chickens
- chicken skin (optional, only if you like the gribenes, the cracklings, so to speak)
- 1 large onion
- salt, to taste
In a heavy, preferably non-stick pot, place the chicken fat and the skin. Over a medium-high fire, let it cook until the fat has melted and the skin is beginning to get golden brown. Add the onion and the salt (you decide how much). Once you add the onions, don’t leave the pot alone. Mix frequently to avoid sticking and buring. Keep cooking until the onions are a gorgeous golden brown color and the skin pieces are dark brown (but not black).
The skin has now turned into something heavenly called gribenes.
Remove the pot from the flame.
Let cool and then strain the mixture into a glass or metal bowl.
Pat the gribenes with a paper towel.
You can now pour the cooled shmaltz into a jar and keep it indefinitely in the fridge or freezer.
Keep the gribenes separate from the shmaltz in another jar.
Your shmaltz is now ready to be used in matzo balls, kugels, chopped liver, and for frying. Gribenes are best eaten in a sandwich with chopped liver, or sprinkled on the chopped liver as an edible garnish.
The shmaltz you see in the photos was made about a half hour ago. The aroma of the shmaltz being rendered together with the onion took me back to the Friday mornings of my childhood, the kitchen steamy and aromatic with all the wonderful things my mother was cooking. They say smell can invoke the strongest memories. This morning, in my own kitchen, I so remembered my mom. And I miss her.
When I was two years old my mom and I would sit side by side in ancient beach chairs on top of a mountain in the Catskills and soak up the sun and she would tell me stories of what it was like to be a little girl in the Vilna Ghetto. I just loved hanging out with my mom.
When I was six years old and had a friend over to play my mom would peek her head into the bedroom, disrupting whatever drama was unfolding in the Barbie house, I wished my mom would go back into the kitchen where she belonged.
When I was 10 years old and my mom came to my school for Parents Day and she was the only mom dressed there in pants (and polyester pants, noch!) I just wanted to keep on asking for the bathroom pass and leave the room for the whole day.
When I was 13 and we were back in the Catskill Mountains and all my cool friends where sneaking off to smoke cigarettes in the woods and my mom insisted I come and sit with her and my grandmother in the shade of our bungalow and work on my knitting. I had such a crush on Leon but so did Debbie and she was out there with him and I was stuck with my mom knitting and my life was over. “But, Ma, everybody is there!” “You’re not everybody!” was her answer, always her answer….
When I was 16 and we were all going to go down to Rockefeller Center to go ice skating, and it’s only $25 dollars for 15 minutes, and it’s just two hours on the subway (that stops every five minutes in the South Bronx and in Harlem) and my mom didn’t let me go. “But Ma, everybody is going!” And my mother would reply, as always, “You’re not everybody!”
And then I was 20 and leaving home forever and moving to Israel. My parents came with me to the airport and both cried but I was too excited to get on the plane to notice. A few months later my parents themselves made the trip when I married The X. They smiled and hugged and let me have my Bridezilla moments, all the while not liking the person I with whom I had chosen to spend the rest of my life. But they smiled, because deep down my mom had a secret — I am not everybody.
And then I was 28 and the mother of four darling daughters, and I started taking them to New York to visit their grandparents. “Don’t take them to the zoo,” my mother warned, “it’s dangerous.” She didn’t let me introduce them to the narishkeit (nonsense) of my life and made sure I fed them healthy food instead of Entenman’s donuts for breakfast. When I wanted to drag my then 14 and 13 year old daughters down to Fifth Avenue to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade (in the rain), she put a stop to that. “But, Ma, everybody needs to go down there at least once!” And her reply, “You are not everybody!”
And then I was 41 and my father had just died the year before, and I was going through a divorce, my mom was the most supportive mother in the world. I discovered many secrets that year that she didn’t want me to know, and through it all, when I wanted to go and yell out my anger and frustration to the world, my mom put a gentle hand on my arm and said, “You are not everybody.”
And then I was 42, and getting married to a man that I just know my father would have adored, getting married to a man who would treat my mother with respect (even though she never could get his name right), and my mom was too weak and too scared to make the flight out to Israel for the wedding. “But, Ma, everybody’s mother comes out for their wedding.” And you know, by now, what my mother would have said to that.
Six months ago I was proudly shlepping my husband out to finally meet my mom. I don’t know who was more nervous, but this meeting was finally going to happen. And then, Man plans, God laughs. The night before our flight we got the news that my mom had died quietly in her sleep, a burst aortic aneurism. She went in death as she never would have in life, quietly, no fuss, just a small sigh while she slept.
And she is so right — I am not everybody! So to commemorate my first Mother’s Day without my mom, I offer you her recipe for shmaltz. This stuff accompanied me throughout my childhood, always there, ready to support whatever meal my mother placed in front of me. Always there, ready to support, just like my mom.
You can see my mom’s recipe for shmaltz as I originally posted it on Recipezaar in 2004. I wish I made it more often. I wish I had a picture of the stuff to show you, but I don’t, and thanks to widening family waistlines, I won’t be making this anytime soon. But if I ever do think of shmaltz, it always brings back wonderful memories of my mother.