I’m in the process of letting go.
I’m not an altogether religious person, which amongst the common athiesm and agnosticism and sciencism of my friends reads as just short of “Yentl”. My Bat Mitzvah, a low key daytime affair marked mostly by a sequined peach Gunne Sax dress and my first real dance with a boy, was merely a dry run for the Bar Mitzvah of my brother a few years later.
His Bar Mitzvah was one of those extreme themed to-dos in the 80s, it was black tie, the theme was Star Trek, the waiters wore Spock ears and it was marked both by my father very seriously discoing to “Too Legit to Quit” with a dancer dressed like Carmen Miranda and the public spectacle of him later announcing on stage in front of everyone, with a microphone, that it was my 16th birthday and giving me a bouquet of balloons attached to a small box which everyone exclaimed must be a pair of car keys but was, in fact, a cement weight.
Which I unwrapped. In front of 400 people. To a drum roll. Which would have been the height of embarrassment if I hadn’t established the height earlier in the evening when I accidentally set my hair on fire during a candle lighting ceremony. It wasn’t the first thing I learned to let go.
The day after my Bat Mitzvah, a Sunday, my mother halfheartedly came into my room to remind me about Hebrew School that morning, and we had a moment where we looked at each other and just understood I was done. I had memorized what I’d needed to, done the song and dance at appropriate times so I wasn’t an embarrassment, and I was now going to just be a regular kid, like everyone else at the suburban bumblefuck public school where I was the only Jew.
The release from having to schlep back and forth three times a week weakened her resolve to fight me on it. She let it go.
My family was not that strictly Jewish. My father “practiced” but it was only that: practice. He was the kind of atheist I find scientists usually are. My mother said the prayers over meals when we had company. We went through the rituals: dreidels, ridding the house of bread during Passover, the High Holy Days - we did not go as far as Shabbat. My dad wasn’t secretive about his Atheism, but participated to keep peace in our home. He, too, had learned to let it go.
What I regard as religious for us was the cooking. Everyone in my family cooked, but my maternal grandmother was a living encyclopedia of family recipes, many of which were based on the famous Ratners Deli in New York, to which we were tangentially related to or had once been involved in, depending on who you talked to.
Occasional Sundays were set aside for the making of Kreplach or Pierogies, a nod to our Russian Jewish heritage. We made nothing in moderate amounts. The entire day was given to making these tiny gift pockets of meat and onions in a salted dough that felt like a bite of heaven and warm love.
We were assigned stations - someone rolled dough, while another pinched the dumplings together, while someone else boiled them and finally, someone bagged them. The most vivid part is that after bagging them, we’d suck the air out of the ziplocs, leaving us with oily “O”s around our mouths.
Bags were squirreled away into freezers and from there, hand carried by Nana on visits or fedexed to cousins and aunts and uncles all over the US. Kreplach were better than gold in our family, and each single dumpling gift was treasured. Because Nana lived close by, we were envied by the cousins - but to no avail, we were given no more access to these treats than they were. Some things are made to be let go.
Participation in these cooking days was not optional, but also not without its appeal. Broken kreplach was up for the taking. Hand rolled dough and children’s hands meant frequent breaking, and that ratio was multiplied by my brother’s and my general devilishness. My mother was always suspicious of the low yield, but there was little to be done about it.
It was also my favorite time with my Nana, watching her roll out dough and then cut it into haphazard and irregular squares which irked my mother to no end. She was always trying to find ways to make things more uniform.
I came back to Judaism in adulthood as what some people call a “cultural Jew”. I love the way the prayers sound. I love the idea of eating and sleeping in a Sukkah, and the quiet understated ritual of lighting candles at Chanukkah versus the madness of Christmas, and the apples and honey at New Year (for a sweet and round new year -it's like Biblical Hello Kitty).
Each year I hold a large, drunken, hysterical Passover dinner for friends because some ideas about Judaism and religion are universal. At Passover, we talk about the idea of oppression and go around the table sharing the various vehicles of oppression that bother us personally, and what can be done. Everyone can abide a holiday involving slouching and copious wine.
Last week was the Jewish New Year - a delightful holiday where C+E Jews fill the spillover halls in Synagogues, bringing in at least half of most congregations' donations for the year in ticket sales. It's the big kahuna of holidays and kicks off THE DAYS OF REPENTANCE which end this week on Yom Kippur. (When I say it, in my mind, its always in Charlton Heston’s voice.)
I buy the tickets and make the effort to go to a lovely Synagogue in the pines here in Oregon, where we sing the same prayers I learned thousands of miles away, as a kid amongst families and young couples and tweens in small gangs of flowered dresses and flats who all follow along a bit despondently (it is in Hebrew after all).
Despite my best attempts to pop in at the last minute and choose seats carefully, no matter where I live I am always somehow foiled by a middle aged woman who fancies herself a Cantor, singing loudly and operatically, proving she knows ALL THE PRAYERS, right behind me. This year she smelled curiously like pumpkin guts. I let it go.
Between New Year's and Yom Kippur, we take time to consider the last year. We consider the “sins” we’ve made and then apologize for them. Not to a priest, but to the person we committed them to. We release people from all contracts that bind them to us. We correct the sin if we can.
Our understanding of religiousness is individual, this is merely my interpretation. But for me, these days are the most healing all year, because I get to start fresh and let it all go. Well, first you stop eating for 24 hours, but then you get to let it go.
I look at my friends list on Facebook and my Skype lists and consider each person, and the transgressions I’ve made. “Sin” is lofty, but there are often things on my mind to clear up, things left unsaid, squabbles left unresolved, resentments left to fester. I’m purposefully looking for things, rather than waiting for them to occur to me - auditing my relationships. I want to start the year absolved of any static, and I am surprised by the appreciation I receive.
I take the time aside with people one on one to tell them seriously about my regrets, about my bad feelings, how I’d do it differently. I tell my close friend how, as my last single holdout, I am scared her single motherhood will affect our friendship. I tell a friend who believes she owes me a favor that the debt is null. I tell an older couple who treat me like their daughter how sorry I am at some behavior earlier in the year. I write an old roommate I never liked who’s begun dating a good friend to tell her I wish them happiness and then I write the friend to tell him the same. And then, I let it go.
What I love best about this practice is that there is little exchange. It's about a process. I can only be accountable for my portion: processing my own mistakes and my regrets, making my responsibility for them right. I am not looking for who is to blame, but trying to root out all my responsibility.
I can forgive other people, but cannot expect forgiveness or apology, nor is it required. I have done my part, honestly and forthrightly- what I receive from it is the freedom letting go gives me, nothing more.
When I left for college, my mother began replacing us with paid labor - hiring our housekeeper to help her and Nana with The Making of the Kreplach. At some point, she realized that a pasta roller created uniformly thick and even dough, which could be cut into perfect squares.
“We don’t have a single broken Kreplach!” she explained, excitedly. I let it go. It cost me nothing to give that to her - by then I had fluorescent hair, tattoos and a hobo’s dress habits. She'd finally let me go.
I haven’t made Kreplach since I was a teen. I tried to find a recipe but none were the dumplings of my youth. I was surprised to learn they were normally eaten on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, before the fast. A few months ago, I quietly asked a cousin to get ahold of the recipe for me, by then it was well documented. The first thing he asked was, “Hey! If you’re already making some….”. I invited my friends to join me in cooking them.
It was an invite, not an obligation. I promised each that the broken ones would be up for the taking, while packing the pasta roller that would make it more efficient. It wouldn’t matter, I knew how to “fix” a few on the way into the boiling water so they’d break. I promised we’d have them for dinner, and most importantly, at the end that I wouldn’t keep them, that we’d divide them up for everyone who helped so they would leave with some for their freezer.
Because I’m in the process of letting go.
Makes about 50 pieces, but we wouldn’t know, because we always tripled it and then ate 13% of them. I know. It's fuzzy Nana math.
1. Beat together 3 eggs, 2tbsp of vegetable oil, 2 tsp of salt and 1 cup lukewarm water. Beat in enough flour to form a stiff dough (4.5 cups or so). Knead dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic and form into a ball. Cover ball in oil and place in bowl, cover bowl with saran wrap and let it sit in fridge at least an hour.
2. Meanwhile, Add 2.5 lbs of stew meat (Kosher beef is best, so says the recipe, Oscar Meyer and 4 out of 5 Rabbis) to a pot with 1 cup of water. Cover meat with sliced onions. I mean COVER. Add 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp pepper and 1 tbsp paprika. Cook on medium high until soft, stirring often.
Bring off of heat, drain and allow to cool. Put through grinder. Add white bread if you need better consistency. I use the KitchenAid attachment grinder.
3. On a floured board, roll out to ⅛” thickness.
4. Cut into squares, and place 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in center of square, then pinch into pyramid.
4. Drop into salted boiling water until they rise to the top, signaling they are done. Pull out and place on oiled cookie sheet. Roll them around so they’re covered in vegetable oil, then place in ziploc, flat in one layer, and suck the air out. Freeze flat. Or eat right there and then with sour cream.