Category Archives: Passover

Keep calm and carry on? A return to tradition

Flashback to March 14, 2020. COVID-19 was the top news story. My daughter Julie and her family were leaving for the Orlando airport after a week’s stay. We had spent a few days on the beach and been delighted  by news of the birth of our grandson in a San Francisco hospital. We had cancelled our planned visit to Magic Kingdom the day before Disney announced it was closing the park that weekend. Instead, we spent hours in a community pool making sure we weren’t too close to anyone else. 

Julie’s last words as she got into her rental car were, “Mom and Dad, promise us you will stay safe!” She begged us to skip our plans to see Death Trap, which was being performed by our local theater group that evening. She must have called her brother, because Adam FaceTimed us an hour before we were to leave for the play. “If you stay home, I will keep the camera on your new grandson for the next hour.” Seeing our grandson won. We had no idea we would be feeling its effects—masks; sheltering in place; cancelled trips; cancelled events; hours of Netflix’s and puzzles; new variants; tragically, loss of friends to the virus—for the next two years.

Within the first month of the pandemic, I decided that celebrating with a Sabbath dinner every Friday would bring some joy. I polished my grandparents’ candlesticks; bought a new Kiddish cup on ebay (I must have lost mine in our move); brought out my embroidered challah cover, and located a friend’s challah recipe I had always meant to try. With some difficulty—the whole world decided along with me to make bread—I purchased flour, yeast, and sugar to make the traditional Shabbat bread. And I mixed and kneaded and braided my first challahs. Delicious! 

The following Friday, I was a little more confident. I made four small ones, and shared one with president of our (closed down) shul and one with a friend whose wife had just been placed in memory care.By April, I had totally embraced not only the baking process but also the spiritual elements. I learned that it was appropriate to say prayers during the kneading process, a way of feeding the body and the soul. I initially prayed for my family as well as our country and for all impacted by the pandemic. But my prayers soon extended to the sick, the grieving, the lonely. I kept a Mi Shebeirach list on my phone as reminders and often played Debbie Friedman’s version of the beautiful prayer as I kneaded the pliant, soft dough.

We developed a rhythm: Every Friday afternoon I baked the challahs, and just before sunset, Larry would head off in our car, delivering two or three still warm fragrant loaves to needy people in our community. When I couldn’t physically share them, I attached pictures of the challah onto an email with a note. “I kneaded prayers of healing into this loaf of bread. Thinking of you. Love, Marilyn.”

By the time Larry and I were finally able to travel to see our children and grandchildren in June 2021, I was a seasoned challah maker—to a point. Baking bread in someone else’s kitchen proved to be a challenge. In San Francisco, I realized the sound of the mixmaster cranking out the initial steps of challah process woke my grandson from his nap. In Colorado, the 9100 foot elevation resulted in loaves that looked more like amoebas. I had to learn to work around nap time and altitude. 

Meanwhile, I was tweaking my technique. I replaced the butter in my friend’s recipe with canola oil, which meant less noise and more kneading time, my favorite party of the process. Rocky Mountain challahs, I learned, needed to go into the oven immediately after braiding to prevent over-rising. A straight egg yolk wash resulted in browner, shinier loaves, which Larry wholeheartedly approved “This is the way challah is supposed to look,” he said, biting into the harder crust.

Over the past two years, I have baked and shared dozens of challahs, many that were appearing on our shul’s Zoom services. As our world finally has begun opening up, however, finding the time to make the challahs on Friday has been more difficult. I “cheat”by making seven or eight loaves and freezing 2-4 braided unbaked challahs, to be defrosted and baked when needed. (I still feel Jewish guilt when I use that shortcut!)

Friends have asked me if they could buy my challahs or even sell them at our Farmer’s Market. I decline, telling them emphatically I am not starting a new career. Instead, I offer them my challah “recipe,” a nearly 3000 word tome with numerous tips. Recently, I even invited two friends over for a “challah workshop.” After we all enjoyed slices oof the warm loaves smothered with butter, they went home with a batch of the still-rising dough they had prepared. They sent me pictures of their finished creations, beautiful in their own right. I am just following an old Yiddish expression: “Give people a challah, and they eat for a day. Give them a recipe, and they become challah bakers!”

Initially, I was hopeful that this would be the last article I would be writing about the pandemic. Two vaccines and two boosters later, Larry and I have pretty much resumed our lives. But there are now disturbing numbers that show another upward trend. Will we have to resume mask wearing? Sheltering in place? Only time will tell. 

When I wrote this mid-April, I was on a challah hiatus. Instead, Larry was enjoying sponge cake, Passover popovers, and matzo brie. But Passover ended next Friday. I soon will be pulling out the ingredients for the challah and donning my special apron. Stay safe, my friends.Better yet, Keep Calm and Bake Challah.

Lifetime Achievement Awards

For the past two years, Passover has—well—passed over us. In 2020, My husband Larry and I had a seder for two, a quiet affair to say the least. In 2021, thanks to Zoom, we were at least able to share a Haggadah and the holiday with members of our synagogue. 

Now we are back in the game. Our first night will not be that much different, in that our congregation has opted for a Zoom service for hopefully the last time. But on the second night, we will drive to Sarasota, where we will share a table with two of my siblings and their spouses. How lovely it will be to sip wine and eat matzah and charotzes with family!

And, as always, I am entering this holiday with the same feeling of gratitude I have managed to maintain since COVID closed down our world. True, Larry and I have missed much—especially a year away from our children and their families. We spent two years avoiding crowds, passing up on movies and plays, getting our boosters and wearing masks. But I feel that the worst parts of this pandemic have passed over us. It is as if our doorposts were marked with a blessing that prevented illness and sadness from touching so many that we love.

We may not have suffered all the effects of this scourge, but we have unfortunately not escaped from another inevitable issue: Aging! In a recent article in the New Yorker article, David Kemp suggests that his newly formed US Citizens for Age Forgiveness demand an “executive order that will degree the last two years do not count towards the age of an American.” 

Of course, Kemp’s essay is tongue in cheek, but I agree! Any setbacks that were caused by almost two years of hunkering down should somehow be erased, given back to us as a gift from God. This is especially true regarding what Larry has affectionally called “Lifetime Achievement Awards,” all those hopefully bearable “inconveniences” that are a result of surviving into our 60s and 70s. 

First example: Cataracts. I cannot turn around without bumping into someone who is in some stage of this common eye surgery. Conversations revolve around which doctor to use, which lens to be implanted (there seems to be a range from a no-frills basic version to the top-of-the line deluxe version); which drops therapy is used, how long between Eye One and Eye Two; and how long one can return to normal life. We have come to accept the fact that people are walking around with one lens popped out of their glasses, not exactly a “Lens Crafter” advertisement. 

Unlike other surgeries, there is a definite benefit. After years of dealing with glasses and contact lenses, we Baby Boomers are looking at the world through our own eyes. My own journey to cataract surgery goes back almost 20 years ago when I spoke to my eye doctor about getting Lasik surgery to repair my severe myopia. He suggested I wait. “Most people of a certain age [he kindly avoided the word ‘old’] require cataract surgery,” he told me. “I can almost promise you will get the vision you want without the expense if you just wait it out.” He was correct. I patiently waited until my cataracts, first imperceptible, then ripening, then, in my mid 60s, ready to fix. My glasses went to the Lion’s Club, and my contact lenses and all the required accessories went into the trash. It took me months to break myself of the habit of reaching for my glasses the minute I woke up. To this day, if I feel something in my eye, my first thought is that something is lurking under my contacts. 

Because I had been wearing contacts since I was in my 20s, my appearance didn’t change after surgery. Larry, however, had been wearing glasses for over 30 years until his recent surgery. I am still getting used to the “bare nakedness” of my un-bespectacled mate. So is my granddaughter, who burst into tears when she saw her Zayde for the first time without his usually dark frames. My sister-in-law was actually grateful that she still needs to wear glasses after cataract surgery. “I like myself better with glasses,” she told me. “They hide the lines.” (She doesn’t have wrinkles!)

Eyes are not the only body part that falls under the “Lifetime Achievement Award” category. Many of our teeth, which at one point held under the strain of hard candy and even carrots, seem to be crumblings, resulting in crowns, implants, and bridges. Hips, shoulders, and knees are being replaced at an alarming rate. Some  of us have so many fake parts we rival Lee Majors’ Bionic Man. 

Unfortunately, the standard devices do not imbue their owners with any super power, including super hearing. As a matter of fact, based on the number of ads for hearing aids found in AARP magazine, the inability to pick up normal conversations is one of the most prevalent signs of our aging bodies. Both Larry and I are on the cusp of needing some help. We no longer can have a conversation when we are in two different rooms. Heck, we have problems hearing each other when we are sitting next to each other on the couch doing crossword puzzles. “What did you get for 41 across?” Larry recently asked me 

“Heeded,” I answered. 

“Needed? It doesn’t fit. 33 down is OGH.” 

I said, ‘Heeded.’” 

“Seeded?” 

“No! Heeded. H as in Harry!” 

“As in ‘Larry?” 

No wonder it is taking us longer to do these puzzles 

A friend’s pilates instructor had a different, but still flattering,  spin on those of . She regards us as “classic cars,” older, still viable, very much appreciated, even if we are restored. 

Unfortunately, Lifetime Achievement Awards often come in more serious forms. Cancers. Heart problems. Diabetes. Cognitive issues. Family and friends are dealing with many of these issues, a result of living a long life or of just plain bad luck.

A recent broadcast on NPR stated that with key COVID metrics trending rapidly downward, the pandemic’s third spring is already looking very different. Passover 5782 will hopefully usher in a time of hope that COVID-19—if not conquered but at least controlled. I also wish that this be a time of a “refuah shlema,” a complete, speedy healing for those suffering from all those lifetime achievement awards: And as we gather at our more crowded Seder table, let us add Rabbi Naomi Allen’s pandemic-inspired prayer, “On this Passover Night/We pray to you, God/Let it Pass Over us/Hear us God/Heal us God. Amen.”

Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com