My summer, to date, has been one big batch of bagels.
For the past month, my family and I have been inundated with bagels.
This has taken place on two levels:
a) Our per person bagel consumption has skyrocketed
b) We have been consistently ‘bageled’ by all sorts of people
Allow me to explain:
Family car trips in the United States present unique challenges for the observant Jew. Now, if we had been driving within California or New York, or even between St. Louis and Chicago – that would have been challenging enough. Our U.S. family, however, lives in Seattle Washington – and my Mom (heretofore referred to as “Baba”) resides in Winnipeg, Canada. On the way to Baba’s, we passed through such burgeoning Jewish communities as Billings, Montana and Bismarck, North Dakota.
Sure, there’s a full selection of fresh vegetables in most stores, and one can find an occasional OU on tuna and certain dairy products. Almost invariably, though, the centerpiece of our meal was bagels: Bagels with butter, bagels and cream cheese, bagels and vegetable dip, bagels with a generous plop of salmon salad….
Though Baba keeps a strictly kosher home – and you would think that the kids would vary their choice of breakfast – each time I peered into the kitchen to catch a glimpse of their respective first meals of the day, I seemed to always find them melting another slice of processed cheese ……. on a toasted bagel!
A Gift for the Family
My wife and I celebrated our anniversary during the first leg of this trip; we have a policy – for years now – that if anyone chooses to buy us a gift, or we decide to give to one another, such gifts should be geared towards family use.
Faithful to this tradition, our kids got together during one of the early days of the trip, and bought us ………….. a toaster and a sandwich maker !
I’m Still Her Little Boy
Baba was worried about us on the eve of our departure: “What will you kids eat on the road?”. So she ordered four dozen whole wheat bagels from the local bakery. (“You kids will make sandwiches along the way, because you don’t know if there will be kosher food in grocery stores in Saskatchewan!”)
Perhaps it was an error in judgment, but I thought it would be a great idea to leave around 4 am Sunday to get a real head start on the trip back. But, as fate would have it, in a scene reminiscent of the Exodus from Egypt, we pulled out of the driveway …unwittingly leaving our leaven behind. In the rush, I simply left the stash in the freezer!
Discouraged but unrelenting, Baba had a plan: Her older sister, Auntie Molly, was set to host us on a brief stop in Calgary, on our westward trek. Baba, in a brilliant example of creative thinking, picked up the phone.
Auntie Molly greeted us graciously in her beautiful penthouse apartment with a gourmet lunch of egg salad, salmon, veggies, cream cheese……………..and bagels!
Now, these weren’t just any bagels. They were shipped all the way from Montreal. Auntie Molly had come through in the clutch – with bagels to spare. Three dozen, to be exact. Enough for that night’s dinner, breakfast and lunch the next day.
…..stands for the principle that we Jews, regardless of how observant or affiliated we are, have a powerful need to connect with one another. To that end, we find ways to “bagel” each other — basically, to “out” ourselves to fellow Jews.
Early in the visit to Winnipeg, I was in the Walmart pharmacy section, when, all of a sudden, a middle-aged man with reddish hair, a ruddy complexion and stout build, began walking briskly towards me, shouting, “Shalom, Shalom!”
“Shalom to you!” I quip.
“I need you..explain…lady…Magen David!” It turns out that this fellow – Alex, a Russian Jew who emigrated from Russia, to Israel, to Canada – was looking for a Star of David charm for a chain he was purchasing a family member. Troubled by the apparent lack of such charms in the otherwise well-stocked Walmart jewelry section showcase, he sought my help as a Jewish native English speaker to secure the goods. I soon took Alex to meet the members of my family, on their way to the check-out.
Bageled by an ex-Bolsheveik!
The cashier, a petite lady in her fifties, started to ring up our purchase. We made small talk.
“I would ask you if you are Jewish. But I know you are,” she announced, pointing to my religious headgear, “from the Yarmulke!”
“We are indeed! Who are you?”
“I’m Leah. You may have known my grandfather,” she said.
He was the original owner of a local kosher bakery back in the 60’s….
Our brief encounter was capped off by a reciprocal “Good Shabbos”.
Bageled by a Baker’s granddaughter!
A little less than a week later, we took the kids to a farm outside of town. A petting zoo and sheep-shearing were just some of the activities. Little did we know it would be over 90 degrees that day. We finished off the outing by purchasing ice cream treats for the kids followed by a 45-minute hayride. While our kids finished their snacks quickly, one family was not so lucky. The father, a slender, bearded fellow with a baseball cap, was anxious for his four-year-old to finish his snack. Oblivious to the melting rate of a Creamsicle in such conditions, the kid took his time. I remembered how this kind of behavior, in my early years as a parent, would have flustered me too….
Several minutes later, as we passed the pride of the farm, a herd of fly-infested cows, we got to talking.
“Are you from around here?” he asked
“Originally from Winnipeg. I come back once a year to visit my Mom… and to check out how the Blue Bombers are doing….”
“Did you know they’re playing tomorrow evening? Are you going to the game?”
Before I could answer, he figured it out:
“No, I guess not – it starts too late.”
Now, if you check your CFL schedule, you will note that Friday night home games start at 7 pm. Surely, he did not mean that this was past my bedtime!
A light bulb appeared over my head: Hey, he’s Jewish, and he knows I am too. This is his way of saying, “I’m Jewish and want you to know that I am too. I know you are Shomer Shabbos and I respect that.”
Climbing off the wagon, I asked his name.
“Nice to meet you, Jerry…”
Bageled by a Bomber fan.
After our 1600 mile road trip home, I ran to the local grocery store to pick up a few things for my next adventure: a flight to Israel.
On the way back to the car, I was once again accosted by a firm “Shalom Aleichem”.
“Do you speak Hebrew?” asked the 30 year-old man with Middle-Eastern features.
“Yes, what can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for the local Chabad. Do you know where it is?”
“Well, the Orthodox community is ten minutes down the street, in Seward Park. The Chabad is some distance away… What are you doing here in Seattle?”
“I came to work as a locksmith.”
Question: Why was Eliyahu looking for the Chabad House in a Safeway parking lot?
Answer: He wasn’t looking for Chabad; he was taking the opportunity to announce that he was Jewish….
The climax of this summer’s bageling came from an unlikely party.
The Security Officer, a burly 280-pound man with dark features, ran my boarding pass under a special blue light. He glanced at my passport.
“Shalom!” he exclaimed.
Puzzled, I answered in kind.
“May G-d continue to bless you in everything you do.”
“Thank you very much!”
And I boarded the plane.
This man was a Christian. He takes the Bible seriously: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Bereishit 12:3)
As one devout Christian blogger notes:
“Now we have a glorious opportunity to bless Israel and stand with her, and even more so as we see the day of her blessing and redemption drawing closer….More than ever it is our responsibility to bless Israel…”
Upon my arrival in the Holy Land, I was at first distraught that I mostly saw pita, not bagels…. and nobody in Jerusalem took the trouble to bagel me…
Can you guess why?