Shabbos and Braided Dough
Updated: Dec 20, 2018
Editors Note: The beginning of this post might seem tedious and unnecessary, but I promise that if you skim through it as we all do with articles trying to get to the expositional video at the end, you will be rewarded with the insights I share in Round Four.
On the first day that Fagel Bagel commanded onto himself the challenge of Jewish Cookery, he picked up nine pounds of flour, four-dozen eggs, and enough sugar to throw a diabetic child into a terminal coma — and he saw that it was good.
While most people will try to do their research and find the best recipe of Challah, I did one quick search on Google and printed out the first page to appear, before heading to the market.
Until this point, I had never worked with yeast and I assumed it was the pond scum that came out of a vagina if you forgot to pee after sex. Despite my fears, I decided to give it a shot and work with that stuff anyway.
In my shtetl kitchen, I mixed together the sugar, yeast, and warm water and waited for everything to metabolize. In order for the fermentation to happen, the concoction needed to be kept constantly warm.
In culinary school, we learned about using a method of cooking called a double boiler, which is when you place a glass bowl atop a pot of boiling water to keep the contents of the bowl at a steady temperature. Figuring I had beaten the system, I placed my bowl of the yeast mixture on an open flame and waited for it to activate.
It did not go exactly as planned.
Heat rises on the sides of a pot when it’s above an open flame and then turns into Satan’s-Semen levels of hot. So when I returned a half hour later, I touched the bowl of the dead yeast and felt the worst pain of my life — and I don’t mean heat like your skin will bubble and puss for a few days, I mean like heat so bad that if someone were to freeze the frame of me in the kitchen and say, “If you stick needles in this random baby’s eyes, you will be exempt from the pain.” I would have taken a nail gun to the bald baby’s occipital lobes.
Screaming, I threw the bowl into the sink, while cursing out my dead ancestors who faced much harsher heat conditions towards their deaths. Uh oh — too soon for a Holocaust joke?
Perfecting the yeast, I stirred the fungus with the sugar granules until they dissolved at the ideal temperature. By the time the half hour was up, the bowl resembled the acid reflux you see in the toilet when you’re past the point of too drunk, but still trying to hold back the vomit that would commit yourself to be the spewer at the party.
Cup by cup, I sifted in the flour into the yeast and eggs and left the dough to rise in a bowl.
I want to lie to you guys and pretend that while I waited, I went to go read up on philosophical debate or tutored blind homeless kids, but I honestly just laid on my stomach and watched YouTube videos of people popping pimples.
When I returned to the kitchen, the dough looked to be the cellulite cottage cheese consistency found on the back of the Kardashian sisters thighs and assumed it meant a job well done. Armenian stretch marks are the universal sign that your cuisine is headed in the right direction.
I pounded down the dough and began to braid.
Now, braiding is harder than you think. Dough sticks to itself and if you don’t act fast enough, you end up with a product that looks like E.T. after he went through a chemical burn. Henceforth, with lightning bolt speed, I braided the Challah faster than your intestines would try to expel a meal of Chulent and laxatives from your digestive track.
You know that saying that eyebrows are meant to be sisters and not twins? I realize that Challahs are meant to be distant cousins and not sisters. Mine didn’t look like they were closely related to one another, but they were close enough that a Chassidic Shadchun would still set them up so they could procreate and make retarded babies from their gene pool.
I threw the Challahs into the oven, and twenty minutes later I pulled out beautifully condensed turds that were stronger than the brick I threw at the back of my neighbors head — the bitch tried stealing my Architectural Digest subscription from my mailbox.
Word of the Wise: you need to let Challahs rise a second time after they’ve been braided.
Another Word of the Wise: An important brain stem is located in the back of your head, so a brick thrown at a spinal cord CAN and WILL cause irreparable brain damage. Do I feel bad? No. My neighbor can now read her stolen magazines while breathing through a tube. She’ll thank me later when she wins a Pulitzer Prize for writing a novel with her eyes.
I repeated the process a third time. While doing so, I called my mom to vent about my — now paraplegic — neighbor. She had as little sympathy as I did, but also taught me a valuable life lesson to, “love thy neighbor,” — that’s a joke, she didn’t teach me any of that crap, but what she did teach me was that if you heat up the oven and then turn it off to cool, you can leave your raw, braided Challahs in there and they’ll rise for baking!
Like magic, it worked, and my Challahs rose like horny Yeshiva Bachors ready to blow their load at some uncovered elbows. I egged the loaves, threw them in the oven, and set aside a little piece to burn to a crisp — that last line was literally out of Hitler’s diary entries.
While the Challahs baked perfectly to a golden, crisp exterior, similar to one of a sexy toasted marshmallow, my apartment filled with the nostalgic smell of Shabbos memories of my childhood.
Round Four — The Memories:
Shabbos was, and still is, my favorite part of Judaism. The reasons behind my favoritism towards the ‘Day of Rest’ has changed as I’ve evolved into a semi-functional adult who questions everything about society, but the sentiment still remains to be the same.
Shabbos is a time of coming together and emulated love amongst your family.
As a child, I used to look forward to this time all week, experiencing withdrawal from it on Sunday and into Monday. If you are someone who has deviated from the Shabbos lifestyle, you understand what it is to miss the feeling of the comfort Shabbos provides, and the breath of relief it offers when the stresses of weekly life are closing in on you. If you are someone who hasn’t ever experienced Shabbos, I don’t know why you’re reading this blog, but I hope you enjoy it, weirdo.
Let me explain Shabbos in one sentence: it’s the day of rest at the end of every week that Hashem gifted us during creation, where we observe it through attending synagogue and eating meals together. I don’t know which ancient Rabbi decided that the obligatory requirements to upholding the holiday were through eating, but I thank him for making that decree up because it really forces us to disconnect from all the bullshit on the outside and pay attention to the people on the inside. However, it is a costly holiday, and I will explain my quandary with it two paragraphs down. Keep reading!
To emphasize the degree of instillment Shabbos had in Frum culture: our calendars on the walls in school had the names of every day of the week like the Goyim did, but on Saturday, it read the words “Shabbos” instead. The name Saturday was almost as fictitious as the character Jesus, or as we liked to call him, Yushka.
FRUM STRUGGLE EXPLANATION: In order to teach lessons on why we must to do something, religious schools tell fables about things that never happened in order to either scare us or motivate us into observing these obligations. For example, a teacher will tell their students a story like this: “Yankeleh never wore Teffilen since his bar mitzvah, but one day he decided to help out a Minyan in an airport, causing him to miss his flight, and you know what? That flight was one of the planes that flew into the Twin Towers on 9/11!” — I don’t know if it’s only Jews who use these bullshit tales, but the false anecdotes run rampant through the educational system almost as commonly as Gemmatria is used to explain global catastrophes.
Pertaining to the aforementioned teaching method, my teachers used to tell us a story of a man who was so poor he couldn’t afford food for Shabbos. Since this man had full faith in Hashem, he spent his entire weeks’ salary on food in order for him to be able to fulfill the Mitzvah. While eating the fish he bought — instead of buying something more useful like seizure pills for his epileptic daughter — he found a pearl in the fish. This pearl was a reward from Hashem for making the sacrifice that he did.
What I don’t understand is why the day of rest has translated down over all these years to mean force feeding yourself even when you can’t afford it? To some people, a day of rest could mean overdosing on Klonopin and face-fucking your Cabbage Patch Kid you’ve had since the 90’s. If the day of rest means eating into debt, where the fuck are all the pearls Hashem never gave me?
Now, back to my childhood love of Shabbos.
The way it works is: after Friday sundown, my grandparents would come over along with all my siblings, and we would laugh and talk about our weeks and current events for a couple of hours over the enormous amounts of food my mother made. To have this as a staple in your childhood is momentous to an unbelievable level. I really valued and loved it.
After the meals, I used to read, like full novels, because I didn’t have television to distract me from brain-stimulating activities. There is a coziness of curling up to a quiet house — which is an unexplainable silence found only on Shabbos night — and reading for hours, knowing that everything is on pause; your mind, your worries of school, and your fears of having to face the outside world. I always wonder if it’s possible for me to get back to that stage and genuinely enjoy reading with the mixture of silence and comfort wringing in my ears.
Despite loving Friday nights, don’t get me wrong, Saturdays were filled with long hours of boredom, especially if you were a friendless, fat-fuck like me. If you had no friends in your neighborhood who liked you — because you were, shall we say, a closeted Fagel who was depressed from repression — you waited all day for the ‘Day of Rest’ to end. It was draining. We couldn’t ask when Shabbos was over because that meant we were ungrateful for the gift of the seventh day Hashem gave us, so we would resort to asking in a positive regard, “How much longer of Shabbos do we have?”
On Saturday mornings, only men attended Shul. This is something I still resent. I have so much anger towards all the commandments men are obligated to do, while women can freely refrain from davening and other time-bound Mitzvahs. Judaism treats men like animals that need to be kept busy otherwise, they will turn into rape machines who think about sex all the time — but this is a rant for another time.
I never got the hang of Shul. I never got the hang of school either. Everything was presented to me in a different language, and Frum schools are the only educational system that thinks that if it teaches something in another language without teaching the origin of that language first, everything will work out hunky-dory. That was not the case for me. I spent thirteen years of my Jewish education not knowing what I was looking at on the pages. It makes me sad that I could potentially possess a wealth of knowledge if everything was taught Gemarrah or Tanach in English.
Because of not being able to process the language barrier, I never knew the order of the prayers and Shul for me was feeling like an outsider at all times. I never felt comfortable being with all the men who exuded masculine energy, because I was a girly boy who wanted to be with his mother and sisters on the women’s side. But the environment was too toxic for me to ever be allowed to admit that desire of identifying with the women behind the Mechitzah. I hated that I was quarantined to that side and forced to attend Shul, purely because of my gender.
I had no idea what was being said at the podium (Bima). I was an outsider among my people. I felt as if I was playing a game that everyone knew the rules to, and I was the only one who was never showed the back of the game box. As the kids played in the back of the Shul, I was ostracized by default because everything clicked for the other kids, while I felt awkward and uncomfortable in a territory that was supposed to naturally be a Jews comfort zone.
One time, while standing by myself in the back room to avoid Davening and feeling isolated, the Rabbi's wife asked me to go listen in to tell her what part of Shachris they were up to. I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know. So I found my Dad and asked him what he was Davening so I wouldn’t have to admit that I was a fraudulent Jew who didn’t know what everyone else knew instinctively.
Some dark memories spring to mind when I think back to the Shul days.
But like all good and bad things, they come to an end. And Shabbos always closed with the ceremony of Havdallah. If you have to explain this ritual to a non-Jew, they look at you like you’re a fucking idiot. What is so beautiful about havdallah is that every Jew gets it. No explanation needed. We stand around the flame, look at the reflections on our fingers, smell some cloves, and the holiday is over. And the cycle begins again, looking forward to Shabbos all week, only for it to be over in the blink of an eye.
I wish I could still have that raw, non-contaminated view of Shabbos. I wish I could still see it without my life experiences and questions filtering away all the good parts that didn’t have explanations or the bad parts that I’m only now able to internalize and vocalize. I don’t think I’ll ever get back to a place of genuine observance again.
And I’ve made my peace with that.
I miss this comfort, and still keep Shabbos in the form that works for me. It’s a watered down version, but I will never take for granted the feeling of having people around my table, all from different parts of the world with different lives, coming together to share in a practice that connects us for thousands of years. No phones, no distractions, only love that is eager to be shared.
There’s a beauty to this holiday that everyone needs to experience. That cloak of warmth and safety is something that can only be felt and not seen, loved and not hated, but most of all, cherished because it will be some of the greatest memories that will never get forgotten.
I don’t know if being gay is a life sentence of not feeling the warmth of Shabbos anymore or the welcomed embrace of our communities and families. I don’t know if my people are exiled because we are the definition of all things that threaten the sanctity of the community and the family value system. But what I do know is that these values are something which every gay person so desperately wants to hold onto, but loses unwillingly. These values inevitably get taken away from us by our own communities abandoning us, and in the process, our families going with it. So many of the people we love and grew up admiring, choose community over the children that never had a chance of fitting in.
The worst part of the process is that we lose the dream of our own future families that we always hoped for — those dreams get shattered when we’re told we can’t have the ones we were born into, and above all, are never be allowed to create ourselves. We are the people who are discouraged to fulfill Mitzvahs, such as Pru-Revu, the first and most important commandment of procreation. We’re told we’re never allowed practice something as beautiful as this. Why? Why are we the ones cursed with the lost dream of sharing love?
When we walk away from the life that was once ours, we get told that we’re going “Off the Derech,” but we’re not leaving, we’re just finding a different place where we’re wanted. When everyone else rejects us, we are left feeling abandoned and alone.
So we are forced to build our own families.
This Shabbos, as I sat around my table surrounded by my new family of people like me who share similar experiences, I cut into my Challahs with excitement. Instead of remembering all the hurt my community threw at me.
I took a bite and chose to only remembered the good parts.