So they asked me to get involved in Jewish Heritage Month. At first I wasn’t so sure. I mean, I am very proud of being Jewish, but honestly have forgotten a lot of what I learned in yeshiva. (Well, I guess most of it.) Who am I to be the authority on this kind of thing?
I ended up getting involved anyway because I figured maybe G-d would give me some brownie points for helping with the event. I’m not a huge fan of going to shul (synagogue) and sometimes I worry I will get punished for that.
Also, it was the first celebration of Jewish Heritage Month at my agency that anybody could remember. Certainly it had been years. Maybe it was never. I had complained silently about why we didn’t celebrate Jewish Diversity Day. Now was my chance to represent our faith!
Apparently the speaker was already planned. I was to be the M.C. I had no idea what that meant. Like M.C. Hammer? A deejay?
No – I would read the pre-scripted remarks for the event.
If you know me you know that I have never been able to stick to a script in my life. Except as a kid in high school theater. So that was out.
I ended up on the Food Committee. This is not as light a task as it may sound. For Jewish people have a very intense relationship with food. So right away there is an impassioned debate between the “falafel camp” (not me) and the “New York deli camp” (me). Both sides lose.
“My wife says falafel is more modern Jewish food.”
“I think New York deli is culturally authentic.”
The falafel is easily beaten. Nobody has sympathy for “modern” when you’re talking “heritage.” In contrast, in my informal poll among neutral sympathizers, the New York deli idea is universally loved. However, it proves difficult to implement because there are so few kosher delis in the D.C. area, and the one we pick presents some issues we can’t overcome. (Basically they were too expensive.)
So since I am responsible for the food, and there is a kosher butcher near me who caters, I successfully suggest the easiest, cheapest, and to me, actually the most authentic choice considering Jewish history: chulent and kugel and the like. You read me right: “Kiddush food.” (A Kiddush is the Jewish social event after synagogue – where we bless the wine and eat.) I can’t imagine what could be wrong with that.
The other members of the Food Committee are not sure. Chulent-kugel fare smacks of the Old World and we are Jewish Americans. But hey, it was my hassle, and so Kiddush food it was. (I was secretly thrilled. A shul! At work!)
I go to the butcher before work one day and find that indeed, I can actually order these things, have them heated up, have them delivered, and yes, it will work. Celebrate the faith. I like it. I smell those Heavenly bonus points adding up.
Not everyone was pleased at home, though. My family was absolutely stunned.
“You did WHAT?” one of my kids said disapprovingly. “Chulent? From there?”
My other one starts laughing hysterically. “You are going to make all the non-Jewish people have gas??” (Well she said it more colloquially but you get the idea.)
My mother is sort of laughing but a bit concerned as well. “Chulent??” she echoed. “You’re going to turn everybody anti-Semitic.”
“We eat it in shul, Ma,” I whined. “What is the problem.”
“Our stomachs are used to it.”
The only problem is, I’m not sure the butcher folks really paid attention when I placed the order. “What’s a federal Jewish Heritage Month celebration?” the deli counter person had asked me.
I tried to explain. He tuned me out. Then asked, “Is this a shul function?”
Again I clarified. “No, I work for a FEDERAL agency. The GOVERNMENT.”
Somehow I negotiate what I want. I know I said clearly, before I spent all our budgeted funds, “It has to be delivered HOT. Hot because people will be eating it. Like catering.”
I reassure myself. They understood. I’m worrying too much. It has to work.
Fast forward to the Big Day.
Delivery time arrives and I don’t hear anything. Nobody is at the security desk with the food.
It’s 10 a.m. – two hours to go, no need to panic. I reach for the phone and call the butcher. “Where are you? The event is soon. We have to get set up.”
“Who is this?”
“It’s me,” I say. “Remember me? A loyal customer? I PAID you to come to the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Where’s the truck?”
An hour later there is a call from the lobby desk downstairs. “Some guy here says he has a delivery for you.”
The guy has not parked the van in a good place. It is sitting somewhere it is not supposed to be.
I frantically run downstairs. “What’s the problem?”
There are five thousand security procedures for this butcher delivery person to go through and he has gone through none.
Finally, I get the food.
Yes! I say to myself. I have three boxes. They’re heavy. We’re good. Right?
At 11:15 I open the box.
Jesus Christ, I realize (excuse me). It’s FROZEN! All of it. In the original boxes. Like BRICKS!
I start to shake. My religion, my heritage will now be trashed before a major federal agency because I will be serving BRICKS of FROZEN KUGEL!
I run upstairs to my desk to call the bucher and yell.
“How could you DO this to me?” I scream. I believe I shattered glass that day. “This food is FROZEN! I am so ASHAMED!”
Innocently the butcher says, “You never said you wanted it heated up.”
Oh my G-d. I am mortified.
I run the executive offices and find a rolling cart. I dump all three boxes into the cart and, shaking again, call a friend. “Please help me, I’m dying.”
She calms me down. She is so nice.
“We have an oven here. Put it in the oven.”
She gets an assistant to help me load it in. I flip the switch up to 500 degrees. And then the other switch to make it go faster.
I never prayed so hard in my life for food to heat up fast as I did during that half an hour before the “Ethnic Food Sampling.”
In the end I guess G-d got me to go to shul that day. Because the entire day, I was praying.
Yes, in the end, everything was fine. Nobody came running to the Health Unit, as far as I know. Thankfully.
As Hurricane Irene approaches, I remember that day. How crazy it was. I think about how G-d can make things turn out good or bad, without warning, and of course without explanation. I resolve to try to keep that in mind and be as good a person as I can.
Best wishes to everyone for safety – hope we all get through this OK. Be good to each other, and good luck!