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SisterSchmooze: Tales from the Cholent Pot

Marcia Stark Meth / Emmy Stark Zitter / Miriam Stark Zakon

Call it the miracle of the cholent pot. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, carnivorous, or celiac, whether you’re Sephardic, yekkish, or chassidish, there’s always plenty of cholent to go around. Join the Sisters for some Shabbos Schmoozing

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

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GOOD SHABBOS, FINALLY I love that moment when, after a day of shopping, cooking, and cleaning, we stand up (on tired feet), take in the beautifully set table and glowing candles, and sing our welcome to the malachim of Shabbos

A bowl of cholent is a lot like… snowflakes.

Snowflakes? How is cholent — hot, dark, and delicious — anything like bits of frozen water — cold, white, and delicate? An icy snowflake wouldn’t last a millisecond on the hot blech where the cholent boils and bubbles overnight.

Cholent like snowflakes? Well, yes. Because like snowflakes, no two cholents are exactly alike. Call it the miracle of the cholent pot. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, carnivorous, or celiac, whether you’re Sephardic, yekkish, or chassidish, every Friday you might put in your same basic ingredients. In our family that would be meat, barley, beans, potatoes, water, and spices. Yet every Shabbos, a slightly different cholent emerges.

One week it’s soupy enough to be served in a bowl; the next week it’s dry and desiccated — you could flip your plate over, and it would stick. A little saltier one Shabbos, a bit sweeter the next. Maybe it’s affected by its position on the blech, maybe it has to do with how many hours it cooks before Shabbos. Or maybe there really is a secret Shabbos spice that changes every week.

And that’s why a bowl of cholent is also a lot like…Shabbos.

Every week, we may serve the same soup and kugels. We may use the same Shabbos dinnerware, sing the same zemiros. And yet every Shabbos has its own taste. Maybe it’s a new guest; maybe a fresh devar Torah on the parshah. Or maybe there is some secret Shabbos spirit that keeps this weekly gift from Hashem fresh.

Join the Sisters for some Shabbos Schmoozing. We’ve got plenty of Shabbos stories — and cholent — to go around!

To begin with, Marcia’s kids fly in for their…

Last Shabbos With Babbie

It was time. My mother a”h was 92 years old, and it had been more than nine years since she’d seen three of her four American grandchildren. My youngest was in Israel for her sem year, but the older three were all busy raising young families and trying to make ends meet. How could they afford the time or expenses for an Israel trip?

I called them with a proposition: “Babbie’s health is rapidly failing. Can you take a long weekend off from family and work to visit her?” With full support from their spouses, they all agreed. I arrived a week in advance to spend quality time with my mother and to help my sisters plan a quiet Shabbos for all my kids and their Babbie, followed by a “cousin reunion” for all 12 of my mother’s grandchildren, plus about 30 other family members.


The challenge: My mother’s mobility was restricted by a length of oxygen tubing, and too many visitors at once would tire her out. The solution: Get permission to convert the shul in her building’s miklat (shelter) to a Motzaei Shabbos party room. While everyone was downstairs, a few grandchildren at a time could come upstairs to spend time with their Babbie.

The plan was set in motion, everyone was invited, food was arranged, and by Wednesday night, three of my kids were in the air — one from Florida, one from New York, and one from Maryland — all due to converge in Israel on Thursday.

That night I couldn’t sleep. Jet lag, plus maternal stress about my kids flying, plus excitement about the upcoming event, equaled a lot of tossing and turning. And that’s why I was up at 4 a.m. to hear the thump. And then….


I rush through the open door that connects my mother’s apartment with Miriam’s, where I’m staying. And there she is. My mother, on the floor. And on the side of her head, a “goose egg” the size of Montana.

I rouse Miriam with my shouts. After ascertaining that Mommy is totally lucid and all limbs are fully functional, we help her up into her wheelchair and give her an ice pack.

We’re about to call HaChovesh — Har Nof’s equivalent of Hatzolah — when our mother declares, in a firm voice, “No. If you call HaChovesh, they’ll insist on taking me to the hospital. And then they’ll mitcheh me [pester me, tire me out] with tests. They’ll make me stay for a week, and Shabbos will be tseh-shtert [spoiled]. My kinderlach are flying from all over America, and I want to spend a quiet Shabbos with them.”

Whenever our mother made up her mind, there was no use arguing. (After all, this was a lady who had once stared down Dr. Mengele, yemach shemo!) We compromise. We decide to keep her up for the rest of the night, watching carefully for any sign of concussion, ready to call HaChovesh at the slightest sign.

So there we are, the three of us. What to do next? Tension and sleepiness do not make for great conversation. And how will we have koach the next day for all the items on our to-do list? Then it hits me: “Kneidlach! Instead of making them tomorrow, let’s make them now!”

My mother’s eyes light up, and she immediately starts directing operations. Sitting across from her, we follow her instructions. Miriam cracks and checks about a dozen eggs. I whip them in the bowl on my lap. Now I reach for the pepper…


The bowl overturns on my lap, spilling slime all over the velvet robe I’d donned over my nightgown. A moment of silent horror as we view the devastation. Suddenly the three of us are laughing so hard, tears are running down our faces. Tears of happiness, knowing we’ve done the right thing.

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