This is Rosh Hashanah, the season when Jewish people celebrate a new year.
Men go to temple or synagogue to contemplate their relationship with God, and glory in starting a fresh year with good intentions and a clean slate.
And women go to the kitchen to contemplate their relationship with a beef brisket, roasting it in a pan handed down, along with the family’s secret recipe, from grandmother, to mother, to daughter. (Often, it’s also given to a daughter-in-law, who much prefers her own mother’s recipe, but uses this one to keep peace.)
That recipe may involve carrots, prunes, onions, garlic, dry onion soup mix, or even beer.( That right, beer.) After it roasts all day in a 300 degree oven, we spend another half hour letting it cool and yet another trying to carve it neatly against the grain before decorating it with those soggy, overcooked carrots and prunes–and setting it on a holiday table, to be served to the family sitting around it.
And that, in a nutshell, (nuts being served after dinner just in case everyone hasn’t had enough) is the essence of being a Jewish Mother.
Unfortunately, many of us are facing a new situation, now that our husbands are no longer at that table and our children have taken over this and all other holiday meals.
But that doesn’t stop most of my friends from getting out that pot, along with the prunes, carrots and/or onion soup, and making the brisket to drag over to their kids’ holiday table whether it’s wanted or not.
It’s’s called “identity.”
And that always reminds me of the time I covered a holiday program at the Bernard Horwich Senior Center in Skokie, Il for my newspaper. I was a young, Jewish, married mother/reporter, and thought it was a charming idea for a feature story .
But when I got to the buffet table and reached over to put some brisket on my plate, a lovely, white-haired senior gently tapped my wrist with her large silver serving spoon and said, “”I”m the server.” And she proceeded to fill my plate with much more brisket than I ever could eat. (That, too, is the essence of being a Jewish Mother.)
The social worker standing at my elbow later whispered. “You have to remember that Rosie once sat at the head of her large family’s holiday table and served each person brisket with love. Now she lives in a back bedroom in her eldest son’s home, and she rarely is allowed in the kitchen. This is where she comes to be ‘the server’ again. ”
I never forgot Rosie, and her memory is refreshed every time I hear one of my friends say, “I have to get home and start the brisket for my daughter’s holiday dinner.”
Even if they don’t get to be “the server” they all get compliments on their brisket, and can share at least one of its secret ingredients.