(JTA) — My mother always loved to cook and bake, but I was never welcome in the kitchen. Not every night before dinner, not before Shabbat when she made challah every week, and not in the leadup to Hanukkah and Passover, when her latke and seder preparations were underway.
The big exception was just before Purim, when she would ceremoniously invite me into the kitchen to help her fill and pinch the triangle-shaped cookies that are a trademark of the holiday.
As an adult with young kids of my own, I get it, but as a child, it didn’t occur to me that my mother had already spent hours setting everything up. All I had to do was walk into the kitchen, take a round cup, place it on the rolled-out dough, peel away a circle, scoop jelly from a bowl that she had laid out for me, and pinch the corners of the cookie and put them on the tray. I felt like I was really baking hamantaschen.
The cookies of semi-mysterious origin are core to helping the eater celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim — a tale told of a villain, Haman, who wanted to destroy the Jewish people in the ancient kingdom of Persia. The cookie is the ultimate revenge: Its Yiddish name means “Haman’s ears,” so in the end it’s us, the Jews, who end up consuming our oppressor, and not the other way around.
My mother talked to me about this meaning — until she began to lose the ability to speak at all.
Two years ago, she was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a type of dementia where she struggles to recall words, has short-term memory loss and confuses dates and times. Eventually, she will lose her ability to speak or understand words.
As with so much in Jewish life, her decline is linked in my family’s memory to the Jewish calendar. We started to notice changes several years ago when she arrived in New York City for a celebration of Rosh Hashanah and could not put into words what she had brought with her. (It was her special apple cake, my favorite.) Then, she set the table with challah and candles, as she would to get ready for Shabbat — but it was Thursday. And it was when I started to prepare for Purim in 2021 that I realized it had been an entire year since my mother had sent me anything by text or email.
The last message I’d gotten was a document I needed for our first pandemic Purim, when my son was 3 and we’d only just started sheltering in place in our apartment. Titled “Mommy’s Hamantaschen Recipe,” the document allowed my mother and my son to bake together via FaceTime. Even though she was on the phone, my mother was laughing and present.
A year later, she could not be. But as a Jewish educator, I was tasked with the job of creating virtual programming for my community, to sustain us, to keep us together even though we were apart. Like many Jewish communities in that moment, we as a community decided to bake hamantaschen on Zoom together, everyone in their own home. I sent “Mommy’s Hamantaschen Recipe” to 500 households through the Jewish Community Project of Lower Manhattan.
This week, as I dug out the supplies to make hamantaschen with my own children in our new home outside Philadelphia, I opened the recipe file again. And I remembered: I had dropped the “Mommy’s” from the title — making the recipe my own.
My mom is still alive, thank goodness in relatively good health, and I’m thankful every day for that and for my dad, who is her full-time caregiver. I try to focus on the fact that she is still here, and not to dwell on the parts of her that are missing. And so as her absolutely delicious recipe gets used once more in countless Jewish homes this year, I am thinking about all of the children who are getting the experience that was a highlight of my childhood: forming hamantaschen that somehow never fall apart, using my mother’s recipe.
I know that when I tell my mother about her recipe’s reach, she will feel, if only for the briefest of moments, the pride and joy that I once felt taking up my post at the end of her hamantaschen assembly line. And I will take comfort, yet again, in the fact that the Jewish calendar creates opportunities to mark the passage of time in ways that can outlast any of us, making memories when we cannot make new ones of our own.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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