My [Papa’s] watch

My eyes are always drawn to the cover graphic atop my blog. It’s a photo of my Papa, who died nearly three years ago, on vacation in Costa Rica the year before his death. Papa never went anywhere without that camera of his.

Previous to Papa’s death, I never thought much about mourning, but in the aftermath I certainly did.

Disconcertingly out of sync, perceptions jumbled, receptors misfiring, I remain immediately near but never fully within the self I’d always known, receiving on an unfamiliar, piercing wavelength.

Slowly, slowly, I have come to understand
this: My pulse has been attuned to loss.

-Me, ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #47, June 23, 2019

It wasn’t only in my writing and my prayers that first year that I explored my reaction to the loss of my father; it was also in comparison to other mourners, including my Mama and my brother Eli. Before Papa’s death, it had never occurred to me that everybody mourns in their own way – because, simply, I’d never reflected upon it.


Mementos v. Remembrances

One of the way in which I found myself mourning was in wearing Papa’s watch, caps, yarmulke, and shirts. My sentimentality surprised me; Mama and Eli did not seem to desire to possess physical objects that had once belonged to Papa, but I did.

I wear my father’s cap; my father’s yarmulke; my father’s watch; his house shoes.

-Me, ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #15, Nov. 11, 2018

In any case, previous to Papa’s death, I hadn’t worn a watch for years, as I could simply check my cell phone when necessary; but wearing a watch was something that I had always strongly associated with Papa. I remember him asking me why I did not have a watch and whether I might want to have one on multiple occasions throughout my childhood. He was never without his watch and was always nonplussed at my lack of desire to wear one.

Thus, when I flew home to the USA for his funeral, Papa’s watch was one of the first things that I appropriated for myself. I started wearing it all the time.

Unfortunately, the face of the watch became warped from an unexpected electric shock, and then it cracked when my then-4½-year-old accidentally dropped it. Despite the cost, this led me to order a new watch from the same series. However, when the lovely new watch arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to actually wear it because it wasn’t Papa’s, and I didn’t want the face to get scratched.

However, I also found myself wearing Papa’s watch less and less often. It had never felt entirely comfortable on my wrist, probably because Papa’s wrists were thicker than mine, and he had sized it for himself. Also, the blemished face of the watch annoyed me. While I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of the watch, I also gradually stopped wearing it.

My new watch also needed to be adjusted to my wrist size, but for a long time after it arrived in the mail, I didn’t want to bother with it. Surprised, I realized that I didn’t want to wear any watch other than Papa’s. So the brand new watch, which I had selected for myself, and which suited my taste, sat in its box on the bookshelf for many months.

And then – last week – I suddenly knew that I wanted to wear my watch. I can’t explain what changed in me, but something felt different. Something was different. I wanted to wear my new watch.

After many months of ambivalence and even attempting to put my new watch out of my mind at times, I had it resized for my wrist and put it on… and… it felt very, very right to me. The new watch was lighter than Papa’s watch, which felt better, and it fit my wrist, just as it was supposed to. I haven’t been wearing it all the time, but often enough, and I find that it does bring back memories of Papa, which comfort me. It’s not a memento… but it is a remembrance.

I don’t miss Papa more, and I don’t miss him less. I don’t even know if I miss him differently than I did one year ago or more. Honestly, I have no idea what is going on inside my heart. I don’t think Papa’s absence hurts me less than it once did… but… for reasons that I can’t comprehend, and for the very first time since Papa died in July 2018, I find myself wanting to wear a watch of my own – which never belonged to him.

Chirps above, or: Silky gloves

My 1st Shadorma

Snippet of ~
Of our sure, full love ~
Chirps above,
Silky gloves ~
Push could never come to shove,
For we're so in love

I was recently exposed to the shadorma form of poetry by Kerfe and Lauren. As always, I had to give it a go… this is definitely one of those short forms that challenges us to pack as much as possible into every word. Quite lovely, really – I enjoyed this one!

Note: the form need not rhyme.

Salted with my tears (Matzah Brie recipe)

I miss Papa. Pesach is the holiday that most reminds me of him. Beyond images of my father at our family seders, I most vividly recall the taste and texture his matzah brei, which I continue to prepare myself and enjoy annually at home (salted this year with my tears).

– Me, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #41, Apr. 22, 2019

In Israel, Passover has ended this year, although one more day of the holiday remains for diaspora Jewry. Now that it is over, I no longer have to abstain from leavened products. If I wanted to, I could now make toast for myself tomorrow morning, as I often do for breakfast. However, I will not be doing that.

Tomorrow morning, I plan to make matzah brei for breakfast, just as I have done every morning since the beginning of Passover this year; and I will continue preparing matzah brei for myself for breakfast until we have no more matzah remaining.


Not a food blog

The Skeptic’s Kaddish is not a food blog.

That is not something that has ever interested me; but I have, nevertheless, been inspired to write this particular post by Dolly Aizenman, whose acquaintance I am honored to have made through our respective blogs. Her warm, fascinating, and deeply personal blog, ‘Kool Kosher Kitchen’, has led me to reevaluate my preconceptions about cooking blogs. I never imagined that I would so enjoy reading a food blog!

I’m sure this blog post of mine will not do justice to the ‘food blog’ genre, but, still, making matzah brie has become a very powerful experience for me because it reminds me of Papa, and I’d like to share that with you.


What is matzah?

Matzah is an unleavened flatbread that is part of Jewish cuisine and is the primary symbol of the Passover festival, during which leavened products are forbidden.

In the story of Passover, the Egyptian Pharaoh refused to let the Israelite slaves go when Moses and his brother Aaron demanded on God’s behalf that he do so. Pharaoh refused them ten times, and Egypt was struck by ten plagues (one plague following every refusal). Finally, after the 10th plague, Pharaoh relented.

Since the Israelites knew Pharaoh to be reluctant to release them, they left Egypt in such haste that they could not wait for their bread dough to rise. Thus, their bread, when baked hurriedly atop rocks in the desert sun, became matzah.

Matzah symbolizes redemption and freedom, but it also serves as a reminder of humility, for us to not forget what life was like in bondage. Leavened products symbolize pride, for leaven is “puffed up”.


Papa in the kitchen

My father did not cook much at all, nor did he eat healthy food unless it was served to him. Everything that he ever prepared in the kitchen was of the utmost simplicity, but I loved all of it.

In truth, I have no idea whether or not my father ate matzah in soviet Moscow, but he learned to make matzah brie from my mother who first learned to fry matzah when she moved to Israel from the USSR in the mid-70’s. Mama generally prepared matzah brie as a side dish for dinner with vegetables; Papa kept his simple – a touch of salt, perhaps, and that was it. And he always ate it with mayonnaise.

Mama says that the strong impression I retain of my father making matzah brie for me was due to the fact that Papa loved this dish, and he would usually wake up earlier in the morning than she did. As they say, the early Jew gets the matzah 🙃

Before getting into the instructions below, I’d like to note that this is a very simple dish to make; the quality of the matzah brie has much more to do with technique and timing than with the ingredients.


Matzah brie

Ingredients

  • Matzah (2 or 3 sheets)
  • Water
  • Oil
  • Salt (all spices optional)
  • One egg

Instructions

Prep work

  • Break your sheets of matzah into small pieces and put them in a bowl;
  • Pour boiling water over the broken matzah;
    • You would be surprised at how much water matzah (which is very dry) can absorb. You don’t want to make a matzah soup, but don’t be afraid to pour a lot of water over the matzah either;
  • Let the matzah soak for several minutes; you’ll see that it absorbs the water fairly quickly;
    • When the matzah is soft, you’re ready for:
  • Mix the egg and spices into the matzah.

Frying

  • Cover the bottom of your frying pan with oil;
    • Matzah brie is not a healthy dish – be liberal with the quantity of oil;
  • Heat up the oil at the maximum temperature possible on your stove;
  • When the oil is hot, reduce the temperature to medium heat;
  • Pour the matzah and egg into the frying pan;
  • Mix the oil into the matzah;
    • The matzah should absorb the oil, just as it did the water;
  • Pat the matzah down flat onto the bottom of the frying pan and let it sit for several minutes on the medium heat;
    • The matzah brie will not burn right away because of the high water content, so don’t worry;
  • When the bottom of the matzah brie is brown and crispy, break it up with your spatula and stir it in the frying pan;
  • Give the matzah brie some more time on medium heat;
    • Ideally, there will be some parts of the matzah brie that are still soft, and others that are crispy; the real skill in making matzah brie is getting the right level of crispiness without burning it.

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

Inner senryu, or: Haiku

Dear Haiku, pray, how do you do?
Day after day, my heart yearns for you.
Such a hard pill to swallow;
All my jokes feel so hollow;
Must our relationship really be through?
in wintry waters
needy anglerfish cling on;
rainbow trout solo
Can't you recall all the fun we once had?
Those pranks you would pull in our pad?
Before your nature studies,
We were lovers and buddies;
Your new seriousness makes me so sad.
cold darkness fading
distant horizon aglow
long shadows recall
Yes, yes! There's that smile in your eyes!
Come! Enough with the humorless sighs!
You were my senryu,
The witty one I wooed...
Please - don't let genius bring about our demise.
scientist, beaming,
discovers... nay! recaptures
love, laughter, purpose

d’Verse

Whenever d’Verse invites us to share poems of our choosing with our poetry community, I tend to select works of mine from many months ago. However, in response to this week’s prompt, I’m opting, for the first time, to share a poem that I completed and published just today.

I simply had a lot of fun crafting this particular poem, and I’d like to share it with you on this April Fool’s Day. I do hope you enjoy it! 😁

All best,
David

Hopes, or: Smoke rings

A pantoum

Thick smoke rings wafted through the steam
Small silver spoon stirred dark Earl Grey
Night clouds and hopes lit by moonbeam 
Recurring thoughts began to fray

Small silver spoon stirred dark Earl Grey
Gnarled finger clutched by digits slim
Recurring thoughts began to fray
Wise, pale blue eyes could not see him

Gnarled finger clutched by digits slim
Grandfather watched the sweet newborn
Wise, pale blue eyes could not see him
Oh, turns of time had left him worn

Grandfather watched the sweet newborn
Thick smoke rings wafted through the steam
Oh, turns of time had left him worn
Night clouds and hopes lit by moonbeam

‘Coming full circle’, a d’Verse prompt

The above poem is my response to the d’Verse ‘coming full circle’ prompt, which instructed poets to circle round and end where their poems begin. 

Possibilities included pantoums; villanelles; open forms; or even shape poems, but the goal was to attempt a circular poem where the first line and the last repeat (or are close). We were to think about the journey – where has the poem taken us? How has the meaning of that first line shifted? Has it become more certain or less? 

Alexander, or: Alexander

A quadrille in memory of Papa z”l

(in two limericks)

I.

Alexander hacked the Gordian Knot;
Defeated all armies he fought;
With lightning sword,
Secured his reward...
... Unknown remains his burial plot

II.

My Papa conceived 'Cut The Knot',
Believing education ought be rethought
Blazing forth new path,
Spreading passion for math;
Personal gain? Merely... afterthought

The above combination of two limericks is my take on d’Verse’s Quadrille challenge #124.

The quadrille is simply a poem of 44 words (excluding the title), and it can take any form. This week’s challenge was to use the word “knot” in a quadrille.