September 25, 2020
By Barbara Sofer
We all remember the Sbarro massacre on August 9, 2001, when 15 people were murdered, including seven children, and 130 people wounded in downtown Jerusalem. Last week’s Magazine featured a photo of the blackened eatery.
At the reopening ceremony on September 12, 2001, the day after the September 11 terror attack in New York and Washington, then-US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer called the reopening a stand against terrorism.
I hurried to buy pizzas.
To me, the simple act of buying pizzas felt important, offering support to the pizzeria (which never fully recovered and eventually closed) and making a statement about going on with our daily lives.
It is an example of what I like to call “living with.”
Hence, last week I found myself at a branch of the Ashdod bakery chain Boutique HaPita, buying cakes for the High Holy Days.
The righteous 62-year old man who was gravely injured in the rocket attack on September 15 was reportedly picking up leftover baked goods at a branch of Boutique HaPita to distribute to the poor. At the White House, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were signing normalization agreements.
We didn’t need the rocket to get the message. No matter how much we move toward peace, sadly, we’ll have to live with terror.
We’re also going to have to live with the coronavirus pandemic for the near future, as it has spiraled out of control in our country, with high levels of infection and hundreds of patients in critical condition. We should be experienced at this living with a chronic problem, but paradoxically we’re not doing well.
As the new lockdown was soon approaching, my husband and I hurry to Ashdod, an hour’s drive from Jerusalem. We’ll have to make a few pre-holiday tasks dovetail with the visit to the bakery.
First, we stop at one of city’s half dozen glorious and free beaches.
“Living with” also means rediscovering and appreciating the treasures within our 22,000 sq.km. Israeli homeland. Ashdod, 60 of those sq.km., is Israel’s sixth-largest city, and features soft, daily-cleaned sand and conscientious lifeguards who make announcements in Hebrew and Russian. My husband and I have a tradition of submerging in the Mediterranean Sea before Yom Kippur. Because of the lockdown, we push this up to the Thursday before Rosh Hashanah.
Happily, the beach is sparsely occupied. Social distancing is being maintained. Suddenly, a young woman in a bikini sitting close to water’s edge leaps forward to help an elderly gentleman stumbling as he comes out of the sea.
“Tzadika” – Hebrew for righteous woman – shouts a man nearby. He also rises to help. She admits that she almost didn’t act because he might not want someone to catch him because of the coronavirus.
The conversation expands, and we learn that the man who shouted “tzadika” works for the electric company. He points out the tall chimneys on the coast providing electric power. Today he’s a boss, but for years, he would climb to put up the highest wires – three times the height of the skyscrapers that form the Ashdod skyline, he says. And as naturally as someone in another country would talk about a favorite sports team, he’s sharing experience serving in Lebanon with my husband, who also served there. So did our sons, still doing reserve duty. Our oldest grandson just turned 18 and we are starting this cycle again. Israelis, always facing enemies. Israelis, living with.
According to Waze, the nearest Boutique HaPita branch to the beach is located in a cluster of small shops six minutes away. This is convenient because we have a few items left on the holiday shopping list, among them extension cords. We live on the third floor of a Jerusalem apartment house and have decided to have holiday meals outdoors on the courtyard in so-called “capsules,” so that our children and grandchildren who live within the 1,000 meter permitted radius can join us. This requires complicated logistics of lights and fans. In addition, my husband has replaced the apartment’s window glass with screens so Rosh Hashanah prayer services in the next building will be heard in all of the rooms. Our industrious neighbor silversmith Mordechai Bier has synchronized the cantors and shofar blowers, and we feel privileged to have audible access.
The food, too, must be divided for each capsule. Unlike Sukkot, when we’ve always simplified what goes down to the sukkah, Rosh Hashanah cuisine has expanded. There are at least 10 symbolic dishes – leeks, beets and pomegranates among them – that are added to the apple and honey of yesteryear. Then there are the traditional dishes – tzimmes, stuffed cabbage and pickled fish. Everything needs to be divided into capsules because of the virus, but I’m determined not to miss anything. More living with.
To walk into Boutique HaPita is to inhale the aroma of a wished-for sweet new year. My favorite baked good in the bakery’s repertoire is the poppy seed yeast cake, overflowing with those tiny kidney-shaped seeds from Papaver somniferum. This transports me across the sea to my Connecticut childhood, where the Colchester Bakery’s Polish patissiers called it “mohn.” To get Boutique HaPita’s version, you need arrive early on a Friday morning before it sells out. On Thursday, we settle for their sliced sourdough bread and almond honey babka.
When we get home, I discover that I’ve misplaced my favorite Koren prayer book, the siddur with the festive cover by Jerusalem artist Yair Emmanuel. I know I had it with me in Ashdod. I call each of the stores we visited until I find it.
This turns out to be a bonus, because I get to speak to the manager of Boutique HaPita. I express my commiserations about the rocket attack. I am overwhelmed by his appreciative thanks. I’ll pick it up, I promise as soon as the lockdown is over. Preferably on a Friday morning.
A nice pledge for a sweet new year.
May we have the resilience to live with whatever comes our way.
G’mar hatima tova.