As every Jew knows, during Yom Kippur we’re supposed to atone for our sins which means – No Eating Allowed! I guess this message never got to my grandmother. Every year Grandma Grace would get the whole family together in her two room apartment in Brighton Beach and cook up a feast. She said it was the only time she could get all of us together. Now that was an odd statement because Grandma Grace lived in the same building as my family. Her other daughter and son-in-law and their four daughters lived up the block, about a five minute walk. It took five minutes to get from their building to ours if you crawled on your hands and knees otherwise the journey was maybe two minutes, two-and-a half minutes if you were tired.
My uncle and his family lived a whopping six blocks away. Okay, I had a second uncle and he and his wife and their two kids in Connecticut.
Honestly though, my family was always around. Why would Grandma Grace say that she couldn’t get us all together as an excuse for a big shindig on Yom Kippur? Well, I don’t know.
Anyway, after not seeing each other for maybe, nine hours, one Yom Kippur the family squeezed into Grandma’s little apartment, all 19 of us including Grandma. Sometimes there was more when a boyfriend or fiance came along for the food.
My dad, an Orthodox Jew who went to Shul during the holidays, said to my mom once, “Emma, I appreciate your mother wanting to get us all together but why does she do it during Yom Kippur?” Ha, like my mother, or anyone really, could explain Grandma Grace.
I just want to say this about my grandmother’s apartment – every window faced the fire escape. Once some thief broke into the apartment. That’s another amusing story for later. Anyway, after the break-in, Grandma Grace got a hold of my father and told him to nail shut every window in the apartment, which he did. So during the crowded holiday meals the windows could not be opened. Think about it, 20 plus people in a two-room apartment with no open windows – and the oven and stove on full blast. Whew.
My favorite food was “Grandma Grace’s Famous Sweet Potato Casserole.” Of course every grandmother in the world has the same recipe. You know the one: put sweet potatoes in a big pan (three big pans if your family loves it as much as mine did), cover the potatoes with marshmallows (two or three bags should do), then put cherries on top of the marshmallows and don’t forget to use some of that cherry juice. Bake in the oven until it melts into a gooey mess. I once ate some and ended up with a toothache. No lie.
Grandma’s other specialty was green jello served with heavy cream on top of it. I liked that one too.
Oh, I’m sure grandma made chicken and other things like that but I was never a meat fan. I always went for the sweets. Probably one of the many reason I’m always on a diet. Yet another story for later on.
After we ate we sat around talking about Yom Kippur and what it means to us. Not! The kids went into the bedroom where we played with grandma’s record player. You remember records and record players, right? The adults sat in the living room/kitchen area smoking.
My dad didn’t usually go to the Yom Kippur parties because he really was religious but if Grandma Grace decided to have a party on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) he’d join in on the festivities.
Eventually, after helping grandma clean up, we would all leave knowing we wouldn’t see each other again for, what, 10 or 12 hours? Except for my family. Grandma lived right down the hall and we saw her maybe 45 minutes after the party ended.
Well, I have a few cousins around who will read this and I’m sure they can add a lot more to what I wrote. Maybe they can remember other foods and not just the sweet potatoes and jello. Maybe they’ll have a lot more to say about my memories.
Please add a comment to this post and tell me the foods you remember your grandma making during the holidays. If you have a recipe include that too.
To see more of my childhood memories go to S.A.K. Remembers on my blog.