This week marks the start of the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, and the first of the High Holidays. In her memoir, Miriam's Kitchen, Elizabeth Ehrlich remembers her mother-in-law Miriam's dedication to the preservation of Jewish traditions, especially the celebration of this important day.
Miriam, a holocaust survivor, was born in Poland and ultimately immigrated to the United States. But for a time in her early twenties, she lived in Israel. Miriam had to adapt both her daily life and her religious traditions to life in this new--and very different--country.
Ehrlich writes, "[Miriam] remembers the struggle to keep the milk, when she had it, from spoiling in the heat. No refrigeration, and often no ice. Once in those early days...Miraim and her mother prepared the holiday fare. They improvised menus known back in Poland with scant Israeli ingredients. Miriam made noodle sheets with an egg from her backyard hen-house, kneading and rolling and cutting the silken dough on a wooden board. She had a fowl slaughtered, and this became soup and a filling for kreplekh, dumplings; she baked a savory pudding and a sweet dessert. And then the mercury rose."
Worried that her holiday feast would spoil, she sent her husband to find ice. Off he went on his bicycle, and finally found some three towns away. Miriam improvised a cooler by putting the ice into a basin and stacking containers of food on top.
"And then the neighbors started to come," she remembered. "The whole street had heard of Jacob's coup and all shared Miriam's predicament. 'Each one brought something. Everything went into that basin.' she shrugged, 'We were neighbors. at the very end one family brought borsht--beet soup. They put the bottle on top...when i went back later to get my food, the bottle had turned over, and there was borsht on everything, all over. Everywhere'".
Many Rosh Hashanah meals were prepared at 97 Orchard Street over the years. No doubt Miriam's adaptation to scarcity in new surroundings, as well as her generosity with neighbors (despite the inconvenience) would have sounded very familiar to the many families who made their homes in our Tenement.
Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year!