The Break-Fast Spread at My Grandparents’ House
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The Break-Fast Spread at My Grandparents’ House

“No one ever brought food to my grandparents’ house,” recalls Chana Shapiro, “not because of dietary or kashrut restrictions, but because there was no point in adding to perfection".

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

This memorable break-fast took place during Yom Kippur 1963 in St. Louis, Missouri, at the home of my paternal grandparents, Louis and Raizel Shatzman. It was at this meal that we met Dr. Cylvia Sorkin, the new fiancé of my Uncle Harry, a handsome bachelor World War II hero.

Cylvia’s children, Harlan and Lianne, were there, too, the same ages as my younger brother and sister, Aaron and Nancy. Notably, my soon-to-be Aunt Cylvia had the foresight (and the cash) to hire a photographer to record this significant gathering, with all the St. Louis Shatzman relatives present and accounted for. Our group, now including Cylvia and her kids, came to a total of 18 (chai) Jewish souls, an obviously auspicious number.

Plaid was in style when this picture was taken at the 1963 break-fast: (L to R) new cousin Lianne, cousin Rhoda, sister Nancy and Chana.

I was beginning my last year of college, already engaged to Zvi, who was in Chicago, but that was old news. The theme of the evening was Uncle Harry’s engagement to a semi-celebrity professor, and my grandmother pulled out all the stops.

My European grandmother never left the house, so it wasn’t a big deal that she hadn’t gone with my grandfather and us to the Neilah service. It’s also worth mentioning that no one ever brought food to my grandparents’ house, not because of dietary or kashrut restrictions, but because there was no point in adding to perfection. No one could cook and bake like Grandma, and no one even tried. Grandma always had a few jars of home-rendered schmaltz (chicken or goose fat) at the ready in her fridge, an essential ingredient in most of her fleishig specialties.

Break-fast was a dairy meal, so schmaltz wasn’t on the menu. On the table that night (I can’t remember everything) were homemade potato salad, egg salad, whitefish salad, whole smoked whitefish (with head attached), salmon croquettes, deviled eggs, cheese soufflé, noodle kugel, various pickled items (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.), bagels, breads, fruit compote, and quite a few cakes. The repast did not include a green salad. We weren’t a spirits-drinking clan, but each family group had its favorite beverage. Seltzer (“greps vasser” in Yiddish) was king, Pepsi Cola and Ginger Ale tied for second place, with orange juice coming in third. Water? We could go into the kitchen and turn on the faucet.

A traditional break the fast lox and bagels spread.

The big table was set with Grandma’s hand-embroidered tablecloth with fancy crocheted edging and her Russel Wright dairy dishes. There was so much food and drink (main dishes, drinks, and desserts were out together; eat-what-you-want-when-you-want-it was the house rule) that there was no space left on the table for our own plates, so we squeezed chairs into the living room and used our laps. Between going back and forth for more food, we chatted with Cylvia, a natural-born “people person,” and we all had a wonderful time.

Zvi and I were married that summer and moved to New York, so the memorable break-fast of 1963 was the last one I attended with the whole Shatzman family. My sister told me that in later years, when she visited my very sick grandmother in the hospital, she asked what Grandma was going to do when she got out.

“I’m going into the kitchen to start cooking!” she answered.

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