Yiddish for 'Destiny'
B'shert often refers to one’s spouse or soulmate. For me it refers to my destiny to be a baker. My great grandmother, Sluva Meltzer, owned a bakery in the small European town of Horodenka; part of the
Hapsburg Empire controlled
by the Austro-Hungarian
Monarchy in the late 19th
and early 20th century.
Notice I said,
“my great grandmother”
owned a bakery.
Apparently I come from a
long line of entrepreneurial
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Her husband, my great-grandfather Leibisch, delivered milk - think Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof. According to my grandmother, the bakery was a bustling shop and Sluva baked the most fabulous challah. The shop was a cornerstone of the Jewish community.
When the first World War broke out, my great grandparents fled Horodenka with their twelve (yup, I said twelve) children. They became refugees during that time, working in the crop fields until the war ended. Returning to Horodenka by train after the war, Leibish was shot by a stray bullet as marauders circled the train randomly spraying it with gunfire. The story of his burial is quite a tale but I will leave that for another time.
After Leibisch died, Sluva decided it was time to leave Europe with her children to build a better life in America. The family immigrated to America in 1920 and settled in Harlem, NY. My grandmother Mollie insisted that Harlem in the 1920s was a beautiful place and I believe her. New York City in 1920. They settled in Harlem and my grandmother always gushed
Tragically, Sluva passed away within a few years of arriving in America.
Her children started a variety of businesses but none of them were bakeries.
My grandmother Mollie remembered a few of Sluva’s recipes, unfortunately not the challah recipe, and she made them for me and my sister when we
visited. My favorite was her pound cake and my sister’s favorite was the apple cake.
By the time
I tried to
her she was
well into her 80s.
She tried to
as best she could
but it went something
“Add a cupful of flour, a handful of sugar,
some butter and one or maybe two eggs and
beat it all together.”
She would just chuckle and say, “I don’t remember. You can figure it out mamala.”
Well it has taken me years to figure it out and honestly, it’s not the exact same taste I remember.
That is probably because the taste of my grandmother’s pound cake included the memory of her baking it for me in her tiny Borough Park apartment kitchen with the sound of the hustle and bustle of the Avenue outside the window and all the love she added to each loaf.
The Whole Mishpucha
Best experienced in portrait.