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ARCHIVE -- CHARGEUSSE

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Solidus Online



Veronica Smith

The Management of Kugel

The ceremony was lovely. The flowers were beautiful. Everyone in attendance was well dressed. There was no talk of finances or petty conflicts, just friendly greetings and fond memories. It was a lovely ceremony. I wish it had been a wedding, and not a funeral.
I have never been a religious person. My parents were Jewish and I went to High Holiday services with them once a year, but I had never considered myself an observant Jew. Not until I married Marty at least. He went to Shabbat services every weekend. He fasted for Yom Kippur and he never broke Passover. He taught our children the Hebrew alphabet, he told them the story of Judah and the Macabees on the first night of Hannukah, and he hid the Affikohman for them to find during Sedar. He was the real Jew, not me.
Marty and I had sat Shiva before. I made a blueberry blintz last January when Polly Siegel’s sister passed away. I sat in our neighbor’s living room when their son was killed overseas. I helped to cover all of the mirrors in the Weisman’s home when their daughter lost her battle with cancer. I had sat Shiva many times before, but never in my own house. There were women in my kitchen, searching for utensils, scavenging for baking dishes and trying to operate my oven. There were men in my dining room, muttering prayers in Hebrew, and reading from the Sedor.
“Can I get you anything, Sarah?” Phyllis asked.
“No thank you,” I replied, for the fourth time in the last hour.
“You should eat something dear, it will help.” Phyllis insisted.
That was the Jewish solution for grief: food. Sitting Shiva included two things, sitting and eating. According to tradition, I could not leave the house for seven days, I could not shower, I could not cook for myself, I could not wear leather shoes, I could not wear clean clothes and I could not talk about death. Jews think that warm kugel and sweet challah are supposed to ease the pain of losing a husband. A full stomach is supposed to relieve the emptiness that was lodged in my chest. These unrelenting restrictions were why I had never been the religious one.
The next day was the same thing. There was a group of women in my kitchen, washing dishes, plating food, and cleaning the counters. The men were wearing their yarmulkes, bent over in prayer. I sat in a low chair, as the Jewish tradition told me to. People would come over to me every now and again, offering to fix me a plate or bring me a glass of water. “No thank you,” I replied every time. Homemade tzimmes was not going to make me feel any better.
This cycle of unwanted company and unwanted food went on for a week. No one asked me how I was feeling. No one offered to lend an ear. No one wanted anything to do with me, unless it involved a plate of kugel and a fork. Clearly it was the Jews who invoked the idea of eating one’s feelings. If it were up to Judaism I would be a lonely and large widow.
“Can I get you something to eat, Sarah?” Rebecca asked.
“No thank you,” I replied automatically.
“You need to eat, you’re going to make yourself sick, Sarah,” she continued.
My husband is dead, I don’t know why I get up in the morning, let alone how I’m going to pay my bills, and she’s afraid that missing a few meals is going to make me sick? I couldn’t control myself any longer. I was wound up so tight, and her accusatory comment was about to snap the last thread. I can’t sleep at night because the bed feels too empty without him, I can’t bring myself to open the closet because his sports jacket and blue sweater are in there, I can’t listen to people say his name without wanting to cry, and she thought that a piece of kugel was going to make me feel better? These women, this tradition, this religion was making me sick.
The loathing I held for Rebecca Gratz must have been etched all over my face. She made to turn back to the kitchen; however, before she had taken two steps, she turned around. She sat on the ground right in front of me, her face level with mine.
“I am so sorry for your loss Sarah, I cannot imagine the pain you’re going through right now.”
While I had heard this line countless times during the week, there was something different about this one. I lifted my head, so that my eyes met hers.
“I know that to you we are just kvetching old women that have let ourselves into your house, invaded your kitchen, and denied your privacy. I know how cruel it must seem that we are arguing over kugel and fridge space while you are left to mourn the death of your husband. But please don’t take our nagging and food as an insincere gesture. Words can be uncertain, and life can be unpredictable, but recipes are always reliable. So while buzzing around a kitchen and fretting about the consistency of the tzimmes may seem trivial and unnecessary, it’s something for us to do. So please, if there is anything else…”
For the first time in seven days, my eyes were filled with tears, not hatred. Ten minutes ago I would have wanted to yell, I would have wanted to tell these pestering women to get out of my kitchen and leave me alone. Ten minutes ago I would rather have declared myself an atheist than endure the agony of Shiva for any longer. Ten minutes ago there were a million things I wanted to say, but at the moment I could only think of one.
“A piece of kugel does sound good.”

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Veronica Smith
Vee Smith is a junior Exercise and Sports Science major with a minor in Chemistry. An experienced author of lab reports and research papers, Vee tried her hand at creative writing in order to fulfill an arts credit. While it was an enjoyable change from the usual, it is safe to say that this author will be returning to the science arena for the next two years.