I’m thawing hash browns to make latkes. This would seem wrong but the son who always peels and grates the potatoes for latkes hasn’t been in my house since February. He runs a gym – you know, a place where people run on treadmills and breathe hard – so there’s no way I’d let him in the door now, Hanukkah or not.
So, everything is different but it isn’t. I am called like an ancient lemming to the cliff that is frying latkes. I am not very good at making latkes but I am dogged, a characteristic that puts me square in the ranks of Jewish mothers. I follow a recipe from a Jewish cookbook, the pages of which are stuck together from decades of potato starch and pocked by grease marks from a dripping spatula.
‘Follow’ would be a relative term. I follow the recipe with the first batch and then things sort of fall apart. It’s wringing out potatoes (they have to be very dry, you see), cracking eggs, dumping flour, forgetting the onion, over-salting, finding the lemon last – why lemon? to keep the potatoes from turning brown – and keeping up a conversation with spectators in the kitchen. It is always a mess. It is always too much. And the latkes are sometimes crisp and beautiful and other times an abomination on Jewish cooking. There is no predicting.
I texted my other son a few nights ago and told him I was thinking about making him and his family a latke dinner that I would deliver. I’m not sure what inspired this, probably homesickness for my own home. So, fool that I am, I asked him how many latkes I should make and he said 100,000. So either he thought my latkes were all right or he believes that G-d made enough sour cream to cover all mistakes. It matters not.
We are lighting Hanukkah candles, although not every night because we forget. Still, when we look out the window, we see the window of the rabbi across the street. His family has five or six menorahs lit and it is beautiful to see, so we remember that and light our own to remind ourselves and everyone else that we are still here.