The possibility of housebound quarantine to avoid Covid-19, the coronavirus, took me back to my childhood in Bayonne, N.J., where my family belonged to an orthodox synagogue. Each autumn at Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish observance, the observant fast between breakfast and dinner. My family did do that when I was very young; and then, after World War II, did not.
For whatever reason, setting aside dry goods and boxes of pasta and such this week — so we would have plenty to eat in case of quarantine — reminded me of those days: As a kid in an observant family, Yom Kippur was when you were not supposed to eat. My birthday happens to be in September, often falling on Yom Kippur, and I did not like fasting on my birthday. That this stands out in my memory so clearly indicates, I guess, that I was somewhat aggrieved over this.
Family friends owned a shop on Avenue C near the synagogue where they sold sundries, newspapers and magazines, and, yes, candy. Essie and Phil were Jewish but didn’t observe the rituals; their shop was open all the time. The odd thing — odd as it appears now, looking back all these decades — is that the shop also had a barrel of kosher pickles. I coveted them when we were fasting.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed so many marvelous New York pickles. A good one is hard to find these days. Frankly, I recoil at the limp, ubiquitous, insipid pickles that are served up automatically whenever you have lunch out at a cafe or cafeteria. Pickles adorn lunch plates from Avenue A to Arizona these days, but are they tasty? Not in comparison with the crunchy and flavorful delights of gustatory memory.
I have no doubt that pickles are good for you. Those modern foodies who believe that anything fermented has health benefits, for everything from digestive system to brain, would surely agree.
On the Hebrew calendar, it is not 2020 but the year 5780. While it is comforting — to me, at least — that your birthdate has been calculated for almost 6,000 years, that history also describes 6,000 years of anti-Semitism. The resurgence of anti-Semitism in this country and around the world is of great concern, especially as time passes and we move away from the lessons of the Holocaust.
Addressing an audience of thousands, recently, in the midst of another flare-up in the volatile Palestinian and Israeli political controversy, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, announced, “[T]he Jewish state has never had a better friend in the White House.” He then lashed out against Hillary Clinton, Democrats, and the Obama administration.
Rather than listen to what the pundits have to say about President Trump’s incoherence — unrelenting, but still always startling — perhaps someone could help him feel better, and boost his brain power, by sending him a jar of kosher pickles from the Lower East Side.