For what you ask? Any Jew knows the answer! For the HOLIDAYS!
When I was a kid, my mother, AH, made it seem so easy. I’ll bet yours did too. While I may have focused on what to wear, or as a Weequahic kid, which shul to parade by, I never gave thought to the lavish meal prep. Obviously my mother gave this lots of thought. How else explain the myriad courses, all homemade, seemingly effortlessly. Certainly with no complaints.
Our home was always the center. The guests came to us for Ida’s inimitable hospitality. My father, still a hardworking man in those days, kept out of the kitchen. His own talents didn’t show up until later, when he retired.
The table seemed to extend into infinity. Young and old gathered and ate. Delicious. The traditional apples and honey. Homemade gefilte fish (my mother’s style was not Polish sweet), her miraculous chicken soup (known to cure any number of maladies) with rock hard kneidel (the way my father loved them), a giant turkey, kugels galore, maybe a canned vegetable or two, and her always wonderful mandel bread. I don’t remember salad but sauerkraut and pickles for sure. The only skimping was on the challot. They were always bought, never homemade, at Silver’s Bakery on Hawthorne Avenue. She was not a fan of Bakers’ Bakery which was right around the corner from us. Silver’s was worth the long walk. Somehow she managed to get that done too since she never learned to drive.
As I think back and recall her one refrigerator with its one smallish freezer, I wonder how all of this was humanly possible. Where did she store all of this stuff, plus the other meals she’d be serving for the next two or three days? I don’t know. Clearly I don’t remember. But it was all done somehow.
I have rarely been the chief cook for Rosh Hashanah. These days I’m usually the sous chef, which is not that difficult. I’ve already made brisket (which seems too dry) and will embark on meatballs (never as good as my mother’s) today. Erev chag I will throw some frozen gefilte fish loaves (even my mother had escaped the generation of the fish swimming in the bathtub) into a huge pot of simmering water, add some sugar (Polish style), lots and lots of carrots and an onion. Two hours later it will all be done, ready to be plattered. That’s it for me. Easy and doable.
So where is our yom tov cooking coming from?
Definitely not take-out. Never!
Our eldest daughter inherited her grandmother’s genes. Although she has more than a full time job and is a mother and grandmother, she will do the hosting and most of the cooking (including her incredibly yummy homemade challot). This has been our tradition for many years since her husband has a job that requires him to work for the holidays. It’s his busiest season but, nonetheless, he’ll lead the cleanup when we finally finish dinner in the wee hours on erev chag, and in the ensuing days.
She makes light of all the work. We will be well over 20 souls, and even one dog will show up to do a bedikat scraps under the table. Useful little critter since the vacuum is verboten.
Our meal will resemble my mother’s but with some variation. Apples and honey of course. Sweeter fish. Delicious soup made with the two vegetarians in mind. (After all one is recently engaged and one is coming from Israel). The chickens can rejoice at the reprieve! My brisket and meatballs and the turkey. No reprieve for Tom. Assorted kugels but absolutely no canned vegetables! And lots of varieties of salad. Lots! Desserts are never the high point. Literally not much room for dessert!
The meals are only a portion of the job. Where to put all these folks up for the nights requires lots of creativity. My daughter and her husband are both creative types. They’ll figure it out. And word has it that the two of us, the seniors, get a room with an en suite bath. Not complaining.
Now I should be saying that the meals are only the trimmings and that the soul searching and davening are the main event. Of course I say that and I do pray with kavana but………..
There is something infinitely precious and memorable and beautiful about families celebrating a New Year together. Else why would grandson # two fly in from Tel Aviv? The food there will be similarly delicious. Tofu is, after all, tofu!
No, the togetherness is the gift and meaning of the holidays. The hanging out. The enjoying each other’s company. The delicious food and the beautiful tfilot are wonderful and spiritual but the being together is the takeaway.
Of course, we will miss those who cannot come. Universities too far. Yeshiva in Israel. Hard to get everyone here. We will facetime before we, or they, bentsch licht. Facetime, something my mother would definitely not believe possible. I do it and I don’t really think it’s possible either!
And to all of our people, and to all the other peoples of this universe, may our yearning for peace come to fruition and may the year 5778 bring blessings to all of us, our nation, and all nations. May there be cures for dreaded diseases and an end to terrifying storms. May people learn to respect each other and may decency prevail. L’shana tova tikateivu.