Sunday, September 8, 2013

Food for thought


When a Jew eats a chicken, one of them is sick
Tevye der milkhiker (Sholom Aleichem)

Rosh HaShana literally means the head of the year, or the beginning of the year. In the Torah, the holiday is not called Rosh HaShana, but Zichron Teruah [a memorial by way of blasting (trumpets/shofars)]. It is also known as Yom HaZikaron (Day of Remembrance). It is the day on which, according to Jewish belief, Adam and Eve were created. More significantly, it is the day that the world is judged by G-d according to its actions of the previous year. After a month of introspection, Jews turn to G-d in repentance and seek mercy – for him/herself, for all of the People of Israel, and for the world. Teshuva, tefilla, and tzdaka (translated inaccurately as repentance, prayer, and charity) will, we believe, avert ‘evil’ decrees.
Chicken soup doesn’t hurt either.
We say that Rosh HaShana is a spiritual holiday, that the sounding of the shofar brings us to higher levels of the divine, that true prayers, true repentance, and true charity will bring goodness to the Land and to the People of Israel. All this is true. I deeply believe it.
But let’s face it. Rosh HaShana, like all Jewish holidays (with the notable exception of Yom Kippur) is about the food. Ask any Jewish mother.

When I was growing up in the Old Country, my mother would host about 15-25 people for the two nights of Rosh HaShana. She would start the meal with gefilte fish/chopped liver, continue on with chicken soup, and then the main course of four different kinds of meat (including an enormous turkey, veal, sometimes tongue, and boring old chicken – which was neither boring nor old); either potato knishes or potato blintzes (depending on time limitations); and always, always!!! there was a Jello mold.
A Jello Mold




The meal ended with 13 different kinds of cakes, pies, and cookies. And fruit compote.
My mother would work for a month preparing all these fancy dishes. And of course, it was all served on her really-good-china-dishes-she-bought-when-she-got-married-which-were-on-sale-and-were-such-a-bargain-she-couldn’t-pass-it-up. They had to be hand washed. And stacked with pieces of foam between each dish. And guests were not allowed to touch them.
Not me, I would tell myself. In my home, I’m not going to go so crazy. No turkey, no veal, no knishes. That’s way too much like work!!! Who needs all this food??
Living in Israel helps me keep to my word. Whole turkeys are hard to find. Veal is ridiculously expensive. I don’t know how to make knishes.
So all I made for this holiday was:
*        One humongous pot of chicken soup
*        Six chickens
*        Two kilos of meatballs
*        Two and a half kilos of chicken breasts (schnitzel)
*        Two kilos of ‘buffalo’ wings
*        Six kugels
*        Five kilos of potatoes in various forms
*        Various vegetable side dishes including, but not limited to, tzimmes, cabbage, ratatouille, roasted vegetables, fried eggplant, and green beans almondine.
*        Three liters of ice cream
*        Three pies and two cakes

You see!!! I did it!! NO JELLO MOLD!! And no fruit compote.
I almost made a lemon meringue pie, but thought to myself “you promised you wouldn’t go crazy”, so I didn’t.
And my good dishes (the four dinner plates that are left of them after 20 years) DON’T have to be stacked with foam in between.
And it only took me three weeks – not four like my mother.
(Also, of course, my mother’s meals tasted about 700 times better than mine, but hey, nobody’s perfect.)
Of course, the fact that less than a quarter actually got eaten; that the freezers are groaning in protest; that I have enough food for the next six Jewish holidays; that if Syria should attack (chas v’chalila) there would be no food shortage in OUR house for about 3 months is not my fault.
Nobody ate enough. I don’t quite understand why people stopped eating well before their stomachs actually burst open… I don’t even think they had to open their pants button. One person loosened their belt, but only one notch.
I mean, is this Jewish??
I have vivid memories of guests at my mother’s house, sprawled across the couch, eyes glassy, tongues hanging out, belts and pants wide open. That’s how it should be! Not this namby-pamby “Oh, I’ve had enough thank you! Everything was delicious, but really, I don’t want any pie that you went especially to the shuk for to pick out the best apples.”
Ok ok, so people are smarter and healthier today than in my mother’s hey-day of cooking and eating extravaganzas.
Does that make them better Jews?
Certainly, my freezer doesn’t think so.
Next year, I’m sticking to salads and parsley. That’ll show ‘em.
Next year's Rosh HaShana's meals

And maybe a jello mold or two.
Wishing all of Am Yisrael a Shana Tova U’Metuka filled with only goodness and sweetness in all forms!!

  




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