Bagels and crumbs

Be off with thee covid! And thee too, crumbs!

Drowning in matzah crumbs, the heart, mind, and digestive system yearn for a fresh, dense, hot bagel.

Pandemic Pesachs too come to an end, even as pandemics themselves taunt and tease us with their endless evil iterations, known as variants. I used to think a variant was when my new black shoes didn’t match my new black dress. That was frustration at worst. These variants carry more evil designs on me, you, and the world. We now know too much about these things and never again will I go to the doctor and be relieved when she says, “It’s nothing. Just a virus.” Ha. What does she know?

But never you mind, keeping after those crumbly tiny sands and chips of matzah is a torture all its own. The daily sweep yield is enough for a tasty matzah brei or even a kneidel or more. It threatens the sanity of whomever is responsible for clean floors. Perhaps you have someone living in your house who you pay to babysit errant fallen matzah, to neatly tuck them away so that every footstep is not accompanied by crushed crumbs and the bottom of your slippers don’t look like an ingredient in a recipe. In my house, I’m unpaid, and that’s my job. Nonetheless, I love to celebrate our freedom, but I also rejoice in the holiday’s conclusion. And the same for the misery of the pandemic. Be off with thee covid. And take these dastardly crumbs on your way out!

It’s a ubiquitous event that seems to go so well with concluding certain days, like ending Pesach. If only the pandemic would end as abruptly, with as little damage. The event is called pulling the bagels out of the freezer in the basement and feasting on them, those delicious round morsels of boiled-and-baked-to-a-crisp dough, undoubtedly the most celebrated food of the wandering Hebrews.

The most scrupulous amongst us, whom I respect and adore because many of them are my closest relatives, won’t have a post-Pesach bagel anywhere in their homes. Their bedikat chametz was such a total success that any errant bagel, or crumb thereof, is gone forever and will need replacement at the bagel store. I, on the other hand, with the complicity of my husband, have a cache ready for the moment. The pangs of guilt I feel, knowing that I still have chametz in the house, are greatly reduced by the efforts of the esteemed rabbi who sold it on our behalf.

The chametz doesn’t belong to us, and we will not become its owners again until the revocation of the unusual contract that thousands of other rabbis made with thousands of non-Jews to buy and sell our food, the food of millions of God’s People, which reaches its crescendo conclusion when my brethren and I own again what we owned before. Then I can eat and cherish my bagels!

No doubt the buyers think we’re crazy. I, for one, think it’s a practical way of having your cake, or matzah, or bagels, and eating it at the appropriate time.
But I’m not the only craven bagel craver, it seems. Lately, I see articles about bagels constantly. Bagels in North Dakota and bagels in Alaska and bagels in other unlikely places. I actually awoke one morning on a trip to Bialystok to see a New York Bagels shop directly across from my hotel’s window. Not a bialy in sight.
And then I read an article the other day about the best bagels in each of the 50 states. Go know that every single state has a bagel store, or many of them. We, from New Jersey, especially those of us from Newark’s Weequahic section, we know where the best bagels came from. We know that we discovered bagels long before the farmers in the Midwest or the ranchers digging out of the snow in Idaho or even the sun worshippers in Florida. We actually even know that our local bagels were so outstanding that no bagel store in the exalted metropolis across the Hudson River, home to zillions of Jews and the Empire State Building itself, could compare to them.

Thanks to the noble efforts of the well-known, well-informed, and inimitably multi-talented Jac Toporek, the founder and editor of the weekly Weequahic Note, who is dedicated to keeping Weequahic lore alive, the lure of our hometown still pulls us into rapturous reminiscing and sharing our stories. And I am witness, avid reader that I am, that many many of our stories and recollections focus on food, glorious food, and particularly bagels.

The Note is our diary, where we send in our stories about the days gone by, from wherever our paths have taken us, although a surprising number of us are still housed within a half hour’s drive to the Old Wigwam on the Hill, our enchanted high school. As we remember the golden days of our youth, the Weequahic Diner, the Tavern Restaurant, and the greatest bagel purveyor the world has ever known, the place where you could buy bagels at midnight, fresh from the oven, for under a nickel a piece, and celebrate the taste, the firmness, the resistance, and the utter simplicity.

There were no cinnamon raisin bagels there. No bagels dyed green for holidays we never knew. Almost everyone bought theirs plain, well done, or sometimes with salt. Those bagels didn’t need shtick. They survived on their own substantial merits. They were packed in brown bags that themselves rapidly turned hot and fragrant.

Often most of the bagels never got as far as home. We ate them in our cars or on the walk through the neighborhood. This was easy for me as I lived on Aldine Street, right around the corner.

I know you know the little shop I reference. You too may remember the exalted bagel store known simply as Watson’s. These days, the most supreme compliment you can lay on a bagel store is that it is an heir of the old Watson’s. Or maybe today the owner is, in fact, a descendant of the proprietor of the original Clinton Place shop. Many bagels achieve greatness. Most suffer from mediocrity. Too fat. Way too fat. Too spongy. No density. A bagel should be heavy and crusty and Watson’s was always supremely perfect, the very best way to end Pesach.

And P.S., we never needed a mask to go in there.

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.
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