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Sufganiyot

How do we write again after Friday’s events?  I have cut myself from reading any sort of coverage except for the stories of the people lost.  I always have it in me to hear about a life; what I don’t have in me is to listen to people pontificate on why someone else takes lives.  I have been focused on taking Dyke in the Heart of Texas’s challenge to remember one of the people lost.  I’ve also chosen Noah Pozner because he was a twin.  Because he looks like the sort of boy my twins would have played with.  Because both of our families are Jewish.  Because I’ve been thinking about his surviving twin sister.

I’ve been trying not to think about the event itself, looking at the coverage out of the corner of my eye.  Do you know that is a preemie survival technique?  Their brains become so overwhelmed from stimulation that they cope by looking at things out of the corner of their eye instead of head-on.  So I am looking at the events at Sandy Hook out of the corner of my eye, trying to distract myself.

Sunday was the last scheduled day that our bakery was producing sufganiyot (little filled donuts served on Chanukkah), but they mentioned on Facebook that they were considering extending the baking run.  I jumped into that immediately, writing them that they needed to keep baking.  To give myself something to say that is not connected in any way with children dying.  Just flour and yeast and sugar and raspberry filling.

A small good thing, as Raymond Carver would say.

 *******

I need to think for a few minutes about something other than Sandy Hook because every time I allow it to get to the forefront of my mind, I feel like I’m drowning.

Last Tuesday after school, I picked up the kids and we went to the Israeli bakery a few towns away to buy sufganiyot as a Chanukkah treat.  Shula, the owner, was working the cash register, and we ordered two sufganiyah — a chocolate one and a raspberry one (the Wolvog does not eat sufganiyah, deeming them a “white food” even though they are brown) and then stood back to wait for them to come out from the back kitchen, still warm.

A man stepped up behind us and started to speak to the owner in Hebrish, moving back and forth between Hebrew and English every few sentences.  When we walked out of the store, the ChickieNob grabbed my sleeve and whispered, “they were speaking Hebrew.”

It wasn’t that she meant the obvious — that Hebrew was being spoken — but more the underlying message: we’re near home, it’s a language she only hears in the house or Hebrew school, and here she was out-and-about in what looked like an everyday store and finding that otherness amid the ordinary people around her.  It’s an otherness that I think Jews feel even more acutely this time of year, when the surrounding world is very vocally and visibly telling you they’re Christian through their greetings (which always assumes that we’re Christian too or that we’d be happy to celebrate their holiday) and decorations.

I feel the same way when we’re in that area with the Israeli bakery, one of the many small Israeli or Jewish pockets around the city.  The neighbourhood is overwhelmingly Jewish, and it contains several Jewish private schools, kosher restaurants, and Jewish stores.  I enjoy being there very much.  There is an ease to being there, a comfort to being there.  I don’t have to reframe questions so they’re understandable to a non-Jewish population.  I can ask my question in Hebrew, if I wish.  If the schools in that area were better, we’d consider living there.

When we were in London, we went to 7 or 8 churches.  We thought going to England would be this easy introduction to inter-country travel since we wouldn’t have a language barrier.  We thought anything out of the norm would be taken on face value as something that is “British” and is therefore interesting because it is different.  Isn’t that why we travel; to experience a place that is unlike our own?  Most of the time, the experience transcends meaning.

But we discovered that with 8-year-olds, churches don’t transcend meaning.  One church is fine, but many churches one after the other aren’t enjoyable if you don’t know what you’re looking at.  I sat down on the floor of Westminster Abbey, giving them a half hour version of the Gospels while they looked at the depiction of the Last Supper.  Eyes glazed over.  It got us through a few more churches, but I can’t say they really enjoyed any of them.  Let me put it this way: if I had to listen to someone speak Japanese for a few minutes, it would be cool.  But if I had to sit in a four hour meeting where everyone around me was speaking Japanese (with a tiny break here and there to point out something in English that I didn’t find particularly interesting), I would be daydreaming by the 10 minute mark.

Because that was what it was like for the twins.  Walking through a church for four hours as a Jewish kid was like listening to Japanese, with your parents bending down every once in a while to explain something in English — that wasn’t that interesting in their opinion — only to have the conversation return to Japanese.

On the last full day in London, we went to Bevis Marks, the oldest shul in the UK.  We got there too early so we had to wait in the cold while they finished up morning prayers inside.  We considered skipping it, but the kids wanted to wait.  We went inside and you could visibly see the ChickieNob’s body relax.  She was finally in a space where everything was just different enough to be interesting, but not so different that she couldn’t understand it.  We spent a long time just sitting in there and then exploring every nook and cranny.

Bevis Marks looks nothing like our shul at home; and not just due to age and the history that comes with age.  Our shul at home is completely different — egalitarian (and with that comes all the ways egalitarianism changes a space).  But with a few questions, they could bridge what they knew from home with what they were seeing now.  They were so enormously happy to be in Bevis Marks, to be able to lead their own exploration vs. having it handed and explained to them by someone else.  They could just be themselves.

Josh and I have chosen to raise our kids in mainstream America and all that comes with being part of mainstream America, which means that there is usually an otherness carried into all moments outside of the home.  But being in the bakery was like being in Bevis Marks, finding home in a place where one did not expect to find home.

And it’s a tiny bit of comfort.  Also a small good thing.

12 comments

1 Jendeis { 12.17.12 at 10:33 am }

“every time I allow it to get to the forefront of my mind, I feel like I’m drowning.”

This. This is how I feel. Thank you for putting it into words.

2 BigP's Heather { 12.17.12 at 11:05 am }

I can’t watch any more. I need a break. I think instead I am going to do one act of kindness for each person killed.

3 Kimberly { 12.17.12 at 11:20 am }

Short of Obama’s remarks, I’ve chosen not to watch the media coverage on it. There is too much pain, I instantly want to find my friends children, my Brownie troop and protect them from anything relating to it. I don’t want to add to the sensationalization of the coverage but instead process it on my own and keep the families in my thoughts, and pass on light, positive energy and good vibes to them. In my mind, they need our good thoughts and positive energy (and prayers if that is what you subscribe to) more than any type of media coverage. Everything I’ve done since it happened has been with them in forefront of my mind.

4 loribeth { 12.17.12 at 12:13 pm }

“But if I had to sit in a four hour meeting where everyone around me was speaking Japanese (with a tiny break here and there to point out something in English that I didn’t find particularly interesting), I would be daydreaming by the 10 minute mark.”

Ha ha — you’ve just described me at a gathering of my inlaws, all speaking Italian ; ) — particularly the older generation. Although there is more & more English spoken at family gatherings these days since the arrival of grandchildren (some of whom have mangiacake mothers like me). And even in the old days, there was enough English thrown in — and I recognized enough words that were similar to the French I studied in school — that I could usually get the gist of what was being said, even before dh would whisper an abbreviated explanation to me.

But it takes a lot of effort, and you’re right, it gets boring/tiring pretty fast. :p I believe in diversity and learning more about other cultures and religions — but it does take work, and I do think we all feel the need to retreat to our comfort zones now & then, where we feel “at home.” Especially in times of stress & crisis, like this past weekend. :(

(This also holds true for living as an ALI person in a world full of people who take their fertility & families for granted. Thank you for providing that comfort zone with your blog that we all can run to after a difficult encounter!)

5 Justine { 12.17.12 at 1:25 pm }

This place is our small good thing. You know that, I think.

Thank you for the sufganiyot. And for making it OK for me to post, sort of, anyway, what I had intended to post today. About silly, frivolous, but comforting ginger cookies.

6 Turia { 12.17.12 at 2:05 pm }

“…because every time I allow it to get to the forefront of my mind, I feel like I’m drowning.”

Yes.

Me too.

Thank you for saying it so well.

7 Chickenpig { 12.17.12 at 4:42 pm }

I have also been thinking about Noah and his twin sister. I can’t imagine how it must be to lose your other half.

Did your daughter practice her Hebrew at the bakery? I think it would be a little disheartening to practice hard at a language when you have few people to speak it with.

8 Mali { 12.17.12 at 5:54 pm }

Lovely post, Mel.

Quite frankly, if you sat me down on the floor of Westminster Abbey and gave me a half hour version of the Gos[els while we looked at the depiction of the Last Supper, my eyes would glaze over too! And after 7-8 churches, my husband would be in full rebellion! (Let’s face it, after 3-4 churches he’d probably be in full rebellion.) I love Westminster Abbey for its history and architecture, for the great people buried there, for the events we have seen occur there, and for the fact that the audio guide is narrated by Jeremy Irons.

I of course have no idea what it is like to be Jewish in the very religious and dominant Christianity that we see in America. But I know that I would find it uncomfortable to be me in that environment, so it gives me a tiny window into how it feels for you and your family. So I am glad that there are places where you all can feel fully at home. And get sugary doughnuts. Especially right now.

9 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 12.17.12 at 10:53 pm }

Out of the corner of my eye is my style too. If that.

We actually made (baked) sufganiyot this year, my first time and the twins’ too of course. Tamale and her father (and the kids at preschool) ate dozens. I ate a few. Burrito wouldn’t touch them.

10 Kathy { 12.18.12 at 1:36 am }

I love the idea of making a conscious effort to remember someone’s name other than the shooter, who died that day.

I will remember Catherine Hubbard.

I saw a picture of this adorable little red-headed girl (which makes me think of the Charlie Brown cartoons) on a new website yesterday and for some reason her face and sweet smile spoke to me.

According to Time’s website, “Catherine was a 6-year-old first-grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Her parents released a statement thanking police and firemen and their close-knit community for their support after a family friend turned away reporters from their house. ‘We are greatly saddened by the loss of our beautiful daughter Catherine Violet, and our thoughts and prayers are with the other families who have been affected by this tragedy,’ the statement said. ‘We ask that you continue to pray for us and the other families who have experienced loss in this tragedy.’

And those tiny bits of comfort and small good things are all that can get us through in times like these.

11 Tiara { 12.18.12 at 7:38 am }

I too have had to take in this tragedy from the corner of my eye. Thank you for that analogy. The grief is overwhelming & I feel guilty for wanting to close myself off from it when those parents & family can’t & will never be able to.

12 Keiko { 12.18.12 at 1:40 pm }

“How do we write again after Friday’s events?”

I’ve been asking this myself for 4 days. Even after getting some of it out at my blog today, it still hangs heavy in my heart and mind.

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