I was born to Jewish parents in 1939. I was not born in Poland, where my ancestors had lived for many generations. Had they not been among the tempest tost yearning to be free, the poverty stricken, those who feared the draft into the Polish Army, I would have had a tragic childhood. Lucky for me my grandparents could leave Europe without worrying about the wealth left behind, without a huge business to abandon or property to dispose of. The valuable works of art were non-existent and the jewelry had never adorned their ears, fingers, necks or wrists. Leaving was less complicated. Not easy of course. Just simpler. Unless you count the goose feathers that my husband’s grandmother prized and brought all the way to Brooklyn from her shtetl outside of Bialystok. This treasure became our engagement gift, blown into a custom made comforter. It was called pooch. No, not pooch like a dog. Pooch, with the sound of challah at the end.
With the cards being dealt in my favor, I was born in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey. Those who’ve read the works of Mr. Roth know that Weequahic was a Jewishly rich neighborhood of strivers who had created a world-class high school, bearing the same Indian name as the neighborhood. Indian was not a pejorative in those days. It was an acceptable term and our school logo was an Indian chief with a fully feathered mantle drooping down his back.
Being an 80 year old with childhood long behind me, I can reflect on what was. For those of us in Weequahic, it was better than what is.
Our middle-class neighborhood didn’t know hunger or oppression. The police were nice! It sounds simplistic but, on school-days, when I crossed the only busy street on my route, Lyons Avenue, a friendly officer greeted me by name and looked after my crossings as if my life depended on me getting to the other side safely. Actually it did. And I don’t remember any of us kids being afraid to go out, day or evening, ride our bikes, minus helmets, or feel threatened. Except, of course, by the scourge of polio, but even that, was only in the summer. Our mothers felt we were protected if we didn’t go swimming in August, sort of like Tisha b’Av.
These days, when I want to do what was routine then, I can’t. I can’t even go to the supermarket or have my children come to my home. I can’t go to their homes either. I can’t go shopping, except online. My world is reduced to Amazon.com. So many packages arrive that opening them has become a routine daily procedure. We always wait a day to let the nasty critters, the coronas, fly away. Then we bring the boxes into the house, after first washing the cardboard packaging of course. Today my husband opened a package that was clearly not ours. It was filled with thread. I have absolutely no use for thread. I never even sew a button. I’d rather throw out an article of clothing than repair it. The thread was not ours. It belonged to a neighbor who, in a normal world, would not have been buying thread online. She now has had help opening her package which we will anonymously deliver to her porch. After all, ringing the doorbell would mean a human encounter. We have very few of those!
So we shop often, always online, and usually spending enormous amounts of money for items that would be far cheaper in the supermarket. We also wind up with huge quantities. I have a dozen boxes of tissues awaiting my first cold, which is hard to acquire since I don’t spend too much times with cold conveyers, other people. I also have almost 3,000 paper napkins. But that’s ok since I’m cooking lots, much much more than ever. There’s something about confinement that makes me, and many others I hear, want to cook and bake. It’s a bit opaque, like why this particular phenomenon instead of cleaning closets or straightening out the pantry? I’ve been baking bagels. Growing up near the original and best bagel bakery in the world, for sure, Watson Bagels, I’m longing for their quality bagels without leaving home to shop. And where might I get those bagels anyway? Most of the local stores think that bagels should be enormous, puffy, gelatinous, un-holey, creations that can’t fit into a toaster. Those of us who remember Watson know better. The bagels were just right, not dead weights but slim, well-done, solid, dense, clearly holed and toaster-sized. So, I’m embarking on a career as a bagel baker, but I’ve discovered, the hard way, that one must use bread flour, an item I never knew about throughout my life. Aha, you say. Just go and buy bread flour. Not so fast! Online I learn that bread flour, like its cousin, yeast, is a hard to come by item, mainly sold in 25 pound bags. What in the world can I do with a 25 pound bag of flour? Attract vermin that’s what. I really prefer not to do that. So, I’m still in pursuit of the perfect sized bag of bread flour, five pounds, that doesn’t cost $100. Tune in!
I’ve never been a serious shopper so all these shopping woes are new to me. I remember Jerusalem during the Yom Kippur War when my family of 6 plus dog, was spending a sabbatical on French Hill, Givat Ha Tzarfartit. Once the shock of war had revealed itself, my vatikim neighbors, real Israelis as opposed to us fake ones, knew what they had to do to feed their families. They had to run to the Supersal and fill their wagons sky-high. I was more blase. I waited. A big mistake! With four kids, you don’t want to finish shopping and not have anything in your wagon. The guy who came to our door with his endless supply of black market eggs made a fortune on us. We had to eat!
But the Yom Kippur War is not the pandemic that we now face. We mourned then, and now, for the tragedy of it all and the thousands of lost young boys, our brave chayalim. But the pandemic seems to be an endless tunnel with only an entrance and staggering numbers of deaths. We can’t see the exit and it’s possible it doesn’t even exist. What do we do now? We can’t make plans. At 80 plans are a joke anyway but we did make them a few months ago in our still foolish days. We sorely miss Israel and our family there. Will we ever see them again? I simply do not know.
Oy. Enough gloom and doom and whining. I’m going to try and bake some cookies!