Esther Feinstein

Schmaltz in the Family

A family custom goes back a hundred years!

Banging pans, grating potatoes, and screeching of boiling vegetables were busy taking up the Pesach kitchen; its tone, tune, and mood set the instructions for the entire family. 

I was muttering about what to do and hoped my little ones didn’t catch an earful. I didn’t want to ruin their excitement, but I was worried! 

Who can believe a simple thing, schmaltz, can take up so much of my thoughts, worries, and time? I was floored just realizing how much goes into preparing a real schmaltz experience!

A relatively limp, gooey substance, with practically no natural delicious smell, can turn crisp and tasty whatever it touches. Its new added flavor explodes a savory taste to everything it touches.

I love to cook! Oil, a substance whose flexibility can be so forgiving, is the opposite of schmaltz, which can make everything stick, clump, and goo under the wrong circumstances. However, I was super determined, sleeves rolled up, apron ready for the automatic splash and sizzle that threw itself out from hot frying pans filled with potatoes.

It was all or nothing because I needed to break my own record and make this a schmaltz Pesach to remember.

It started even before I married the Rabbi. When we were dating, trying to arrange what would be in our lives on the condensed, compacted Chabad Shidduch dates. I grew up with the old way of Chabad customs, and I especially wanted Pesach, my favorite holiday, to be the year’s highlight. I dreamed of bringing my children into this heritage, an obsession of mine, a tradition going back more than a hundred years. 

As I held my breath, I asked my soon-to-be husband what his opinion was on Pesach. I was ecstatically happy to realize that he held the same views as I did but was a schmaltz-only guy, which meant no cooking with oil.

This position was a male-only in most Chabad homes, and as a woman, I silently but proudly embraced this fact. 

Each year, I always made the Rabbi his schmaltz plates, a small portion, while the rest of the family had olive oil, cooked and fried to my liking. I was used to oil, and schmaltz was a mess in my mind to deal with; I shuddered to think of what I would do when the boys got older. How would they follow the same customs as the Rabbi and many generations before him?

My eldest son, already a Bar Mitzvah, started keeping to schmaltz last year, but he was easy to cook for because he didn’t eat much and preferred the crockpot, making it super easy. 

This year was different! As a pack, a brotherhood, they were an unbreakable bond, and nothing stood between them; they, as brothers, stood together and refused to budge, so schmaltz it must be!

I invited my close friend over to make their request for fried potatoes, and very quickly, the helpless potatoes were bruised and burned. What were we to do? The boys were starving and wanted schmaltz fries as soon as possible. This was how each one, little and big, eagerly requested. 

Under the great stainless steel was hidden in the corner the non-stick, non-preferred pans, but I was desperate to appease my boys, and their firm conviction of an only schmaltz allowed food. I hesitantly took these unwanted pans out, placed them on the burners, and sadly said goodbye to my gorgeous stainless steel pans. 

Potato after potato fell in line, and schmaltz fries were ready. All four huge frying pans, once filled, steaming hot, were emptied with little remnants of crumbs and chicken bits left. When The boys asked for more fries for tomorrow, I felt like a pro and eagerly agreed to make some more schmaltz fries and schmaltz chicken too! The chicken schmaltz started doing its magic, and real schmaltz was made.

I was proud of the boys, proud of their pact, proud of their commitment: an old custom going back over a hundred years was revived in the next generation, and I felt invigorated and proud of them. 

I still sneak my olive oil, but when the boys see me, I try not to have it around them because even though it’s definitely allowed, to my boys, it’s chametz

Trying to explain the idea of custom vs. Halacha, for right now, is too big for them. So my salads and stir-fries are eaten alone, and I embrace sharing with the boys their schmaltz meals because schmaltz is in the family!

About the Author
Born in New York state into a family on Shlichus, Esther was formally trained in Chabad institutions in America and Canada as an educator and community leader with the lifelong goal of helping an under-served Jewish populace. She and her husband, along with their children, have been serving the local community, as well as the Northeast Wisconsin region, for over a decade, providing for any and all needs of everyone's personal journey with G-d. Her recently released book - "The Lamplighter: Experiences of a Chabad Rebbitzin" - chronicles these experiences and is available for purchase through Mosaica Press at