I belong to a unique community. Unable to attend shul services for more than a year, this has not deterred my community from becoming even closer. Early on during the Covid pandemic, Linda* – who plays an integral role within the community, created several WhatsApp groups to stay connected.
On a recent Thursday Linda asked me: “Will you be my runner tomorrow?” “Runner?” I asked.
“Yes, to do a meal drop-off. It’s so much easier to keep the car idling while you deliver the meal. I received a WhatsApp requesting some food for some Lone Soldiers who end their two week quarantine tomorrow. They are a little homesick and it would really perk up their spirits to receive a homemade meal.”
“Sure, absolutely.” I responded.
When Linda picked me up on Friday at 11:30AM, I had not finished shopping, cooking and cleaning. Shabbat is a weekly exhilarating island of calm. It’s not something I can explain – it has to be experienced.
I left my apartment in disarray and went downstairs. I reminded myself that I still needed to buy a challah and make a potato kugel. The latter, I do not make often, so it is a time consuming exercise.
Once I was settled in the back seat, masked and windows were opened, I exclaimed: “Linda,” aren’t we going in the wrong direction?”
“We just have to make a few stops before we make deliveries,” Linda replied. “Deliveries? I thought we were doing one drop off.”
There was no time for Linda to explain. We had arrived at pick-up stop number one. Linda pulled into an area that resembled a make-shift parking lot, (meaning cars parked haphazardly on a surface of sand and rocks). I noticed a young woman had set up shop on the sidewalk. I jumped out of the car, and asked her: “Which are the happiest looking flowers to you?” “They are all happy,” she responded with a smile. It was a toss-up between the bright yellow sunflowers that seemed to say: “Pick me, pick me…” or the more delicate pastel pink gerberas that reverberated happiness.
Flowers and money were exchanged. “Thank you and Shabbat Shalom,” I said, receiving an even bigger smile. I placed the flowers in Linda’s car and sprinted off to the Herman’s apartment via a small dirt path adjacent to the ‘parking lot’. Focused I aimed to pick up the food and add it to Linda’s already semi-loaded food basket in her car.
Knowing the Herman family well, I was warmly welcomed by Mr. Herman. “Come in, come in,” he said, as if it was completely normal to receive visitors in the middle of busy Friday. Mrs. Herman and her daughter Talia were in their kitchen. In contrast to my harried manner, the Hermans looked as if they had just completed a yoga retreat, not a busy morning cooking. I was acutely aware of the minutes evaporating while the aroma teased my taste buds as I realized how hungry I had become.
Mrs. Herman rattled off instructions. The contents of each tinfoil wrapped container was thoughtfully labeled. Talia handed me a shoebox.
“And this? Who is this for?” I asked,
“It’s for you.”
“Why? I don’t need anything.”
No time to argue, Talia assisted me to Linda’s car. I was so focused on getting going, I hadn’t noticed that Linda had navigated her car out of a ditch.
A conduit of curvy one-way lanes brought us to pick-up stop number two. Linda pulled over on a small street. I hopped out and dashed up a side street. I met another member of our community Dana, who had baked cookies. She had also thrown in a popular weekly magazine with short Torah ideas from well-known speakers.
Back in the car, I divided up what went to whom. Dana, a star baker (I’ve tasted her cookies) had also labelled her contributions. When I looked up, I noticed Linda driving even further away from the original drop off address. “Where are we going now?” I asked confused.
“Oh didn’t you know? We are taking a meal to the Solomon family who are in quarantine.”
My original assumption that this mission would take roughly 10 minutes was now firmly out the literal back window.
“It’s ok,” I said inwardly while glancing at my watch.
As in most densely populated cities, searching for an empty spot, is like insisting there is room to squeeze yourself into a rush hour subway car BC -(Before Corona). While Linda circled the busy street, I composed a note for the Lone Soldiers. It expressed how much our community appreciated their service and that the food was made with love. I taped the note to the flowers. As I gathered the Solomon family package, I noticed that the plate loaded with cookies had made a noticeably large dent in the deli roll. “Disaster!” I said, while I attempted to undo the damage. Linda continued to make u-turns. (Have I mentioned, sitting in the back seat of a car tends to make me sea sick?)
Linda decided I should disembark while she continued to look for a parking spot. As I ran hither and thither Linda shouted out the apartment number. A six floor walk up, awaited me. I decided what an excellent opportunity to do some stairmaster. Evidently, my inner fitness barometer was very low. I left the delivery at the door, rang the bell and bolted up another flight of stairs, to be appropriately socially distanced. Our friend was overcome with the amount of packages on her welcome mat. I repeated Mrs. Herman’s instructions which I am sure the neighbors heard as well.
We then went to the Lone Soldiers’ address. They met us at the entrance of their building. I handed them their delivery along with the flowers. Linda and I couldn’t help but schmooze, to discover whom we may know in common. We also shared that our community has excellent programming specifically for Lone Soldiers.
Having completed my mission, I was almost out the car, when Linda pointed at the shoebox. “What’s that?” I had forgotten about it in my haste to complete my mental list of tasks waiting upstairs. I grabbed the box and shouted a warm farewell to Linda. I entered my building and was more than grateful to use the elevator. I concluded that the bakeries in my neighborhood were definitely closed. I had no idea how was I going to finish my list in the remaining time I had before Shabbat began.
After I de-masked and completed my version of a surgery scrub, I gulped down some water and began to make order of my kitchen. The shoebox took up valuable counter space. “Might as well see what’s in here,” I said to myself. I unpacked in this order:
- 1 x homemade challah,
- 1 x rectangular foil pan labeled “potato kugel” and,
- 1 x even larger rectangular pan labeled chocolate cake.
I exhaled and just couldn’t believe what had transpired. It was as if G-d had conversed with Mrs. Herman directly instructing her to make an additional food package that was unplanned. I cut the kugel and cake in half to share with an older neighbor. So overwhelmed was I at the size of the cake, I cut the rest into large squares and placed them into cookie cups.
As I proceeded to my Michael’s apartment, at that very moment, his Russian next-door neighbor Lena, opened her door, broom in hand. “Oh hi, Lena,” I said offering her a brownie. I transferred the potato kugel and chocolate cake to Michael while he and Lena struck up a conversation. I scurried off with an excess of brownies. I then knocked on Steve’s door. Lena bounded over still clutching her broom to catch up with Steve. I guess she wasn’t in a hurry.
About to extricate myself from Lena and Steve in the narrow hallway, another neighbor popped out of his apartment. As he passed by I proffered the brownies in front of him. I did not know nor saw this neighbor often. “What is the occasion?” He asked.
“In honor of Shabbat.”
“It’s delicious,” he said, taking another for himself and one for his girlfriend. I attempted to explain that I hadn’t baked them. I exited the spontaneous ‘block party’ with an empty tray and a full heart.
I whizzed through my chores. I had just enough time to call Talia and relate the events. “If your mom ever wants to start a catering business, I have the perfect name for it.
“Oh?” replied Talia quizzically.
“Talia, do you remember the brand name on shoe box?”
Talia laughed, “Yes! Lady Comfort.”
“Exactly, your mom is Lady Comfort.”
As I welcomed the Sabbath Queen, I was most definitely feeling G-d’s love, the love my community has for each other and how great it feels to love thy neighbor.
* names have been changed