For as long as I can remember, Pesach has conjured up the image of a mound of whole walnuts on a white kitchen table. My mother, grandmother, sister and I encircled it, as if sitting around a campfire telling tales. We dismantled the shells with unwieldy nutcrackers, filling three bowls: one with the shards, another with the meats, and the last, with the mortar wrought by a hand-cranked nut grinder.
A few months ago I reunited with a stranger who was an important part of my life more than three decades ago. For a few years in the late 1970s, while I was working as editor of Buffalo’s weekly Jewish newspaper, I decided I wanted to personalize the plight of Russia’s imprisoned refuseniks, the Jews who lacked the freedom to live as Jews in their homeland, or leave for freedom elsewhere.
I’m proud that both my children have a serious appreciation for Classic Rock, one of a select few testaments that I brought them up right. My 20-year-old son’s bedroom walls are adorned with memorabilia of years gone by, my favorite being a hand-sketched reproduction of Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia performing together. My 16-year-old daughter, while equally enthusiastic, has designated her walls mostly to her own creations, all of which — in my unbiased opinion — are quite impressive.
It snowed something fierce on the night we closed on our home. My mind, distracted by the weather, quickly leapt from talk of escrow to the fact that we did not own a shovel. I also thought of the future, when our sons, then all under 5, would set up homes of their own and leave us behind with echoes of their childhood in these halls.
I was watching my children chase fireflies when the siren from a local New Jersey firehouse put my body on full alert. The plaintive wail, eerily reminiscent of a siren’s call from another time and place, seemed to emanate from the heavens, rising and falling. I closed my eyes and let the sounds transport me back to a cold Jerusalem night when sirens signaled existential threats and fears of poisonous gas, not emergency calls to the volunteer fire department.
After I park my car and head to my desk at work, I always pass by the same six or seven parking garage attendants and security guards. I smile warmly at each of them and offer a simple hello, sometimes stopping to ask about their morning, and continue on my way. Initially, some looked startled at my greetings — most New Yorkers are instantly wary of affability, since it usually precedes an attempt to sell something — but now they all return my smile, sometimes even beating me to it. These brief exchanges never take more than a minute or two, and it makes for a better start to my day.
A writer reflects on her version of Proust's madeleine.
Fredricka R. Maister
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video:
Butter, flour, vanilla, powdered sugar and chopped walnuts. Add to the mix my time, patience and delusions of grandeur as a pastry chef. Even I, a culinary flunky, can bake my way into dessert bliss with this surefire recipe.
There was never even a discussion. We just knew that our boys would attend Jewish day school. But when our youngest, a self-determined soul from the very beginning, needed something different from what the yeshiva system could provide, we as his parents found ourselves staring down the tough decision we never thought we’d have to make. It’s been seven years since our son began kindergarten at the local elementary school, named for a Supreme Court justice, not a codifier of Jewish law.
As the summer Sunday of ArtsFest drew near, apprehensions about the solo journey to the country and not knowing anyone else who was going got the best of me. At 12, I failed at Camp Sabra — my best friend, Diane Greenberg, took up with her new set of friends from her new junior high. I was left alone.