The smell of the diaspora

I grew up in a world called the diaspora. But on Friday Mornings the Diaspora smelled outrageously good. My grandmother got up very early to make challah. And I got up very early too, to assist her making the challah. I was allowed to measure the flour, to stir the ingredients together and often I ran forth and back to look if the dough slept well under the massive white bed of my grandparents, covered with a huge white cushion and a hot bottle, but I was not allowed to lift up the cushion, because the dough had to rest. After hours of impatient waiting my grandmother brought the dough back to the kitchen table and I was allowed to help her braiding the challah and together with the cat sat in front of the oven, impatiently waiting till the time came and the challah was to be taken out of the oven, at least two loafs of bread. The town where my grandparents lived in had no synagogue anymore because it was a town in Germany and Germany was worse than living in the diaspora, but on Friday Mornings,in a small town in Germany when my grandmother opened the window, and you could smell the challah all over the street, Germany smelled as it were still a country where jewish life took place, even if it didn’t. Shabbat began when I was allowed to interrupt my grandfather listening to the radio on every Friday night. Then he took me upon his shoulders, running down the long floor, to the bathroom, where he shaved and told me all his secrets and I sat upon the bathroom table and hold the box with cufflinks and chose my favorite pair, so my grandfather could greet the bride shabbat with a pair of special cufflinks and then I went to my grandmother, and got dressed up too, I was very keen to get a a long colorful necklace to wear from her and she always gave the most colorful necklace she owned to me. On Friday evening we always had visitors coming over to shabbat, they came from other towns, similar to those my grandparents lived in, with no synagogues or jews left, while many jewish children were brought up with Kedem grape juice I was brought upon with grape juice from an organic shop and I believed for many years that the sweet and thick juice was real red wine. My grandfather was responsible for the prayers, my grandmother did not care for the prayers very much, she was to jeckish after all, but she cared for the visitors and on every shabbat night, we heard the stories of the death. Death fathers, sisters, lovers, mothers, cousins and aunts, we heard the stories of the sunken worlds of Budapest and Prague and Shabbat evening never came as a joyous bride to us but as a jilted and hurt part of our life. But still shabbat smelled good and as an assistant challah baker I also became an assistant to my grandfather, being allowed to hold the heavy shabbat knife with the blue and green stones on its handle. Gut shabbes, did everyone say to its neighbor and I failed in escaping the wet kisses of the visitors on the shabbat table of my grandparents house.

I still live in the diaspora and I still start every Friday morning with baking challah, thinking of my grandmother standing in the kitchen very early on every Friday morning. In Ireland, Judaism is nearly invisible and nearly everything is made of pork. Even very harmless things like eggs. It would be to much to call Ireland the diaspora, because there is no one there to be count towards such a phenomenon. Living as jew here is much different than in all the other diaspora places I have known and lived in. There are no phone calls here on a Thursday evening: What are you doing for Shabbes? Where are you going to Shabbes? What do you cook for Shabbes? I don’t mind the calls much, but I miss the planning, the get together, I miss the newest gossip of L. jilted for D., of fabulous friend B. fabulous new job but horrible boss and all the other little bits and pieces brought upon the table for shabbos. Went I went to the synagogue here, I wondered that no one washed the hands before eating the challah after the service.  I don’t believe washing hands makes you a good or a better or not a jew at all, but I miss the old tin jug in my grand-parents house and the silence between the washing of the hands and the serving of the bread. It is not that I think challah-baking or using defrosted challah makes you a good or a bad or a jew at all, but I still miss the feeling of a certain consciousness that even we in the diaspora between Dublin, Marseille and Hongkong still know the same stories, share the same songs, quarrel about the the same things and still know that in a world called diaspora, a Friday can smell outrageously good and its maybe in the diaspora where we are asked when and how the Shabbat shall begin.

Three Jews, Four Opinions offers insights and more than opinions on various themes, approached from various angles to read on.

Ein Gedanke zu “The smell of the diaspora

  1. Sounds like no one celebrated Shabbat with them in a way that gave them memories for a lifetime. So they do not know the smell and the taste of a shallah as good as your grandmother used to bake. No one taught them the ritual of washing the hands before eating the challah. Perhaps they need you to invite them and show them. Perhaps they, too, are missing the phone calls on Thursday evening.

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