Photo Credit: Courtesy
The author’s mother (on the right) with other relatives.

I don’t have inside information on what heaven is really like, but I can only imagine that if there were a kitchen up there, it would be like Mom’s.

The first thing that you would notice is the order – everything had its place. And nothing was left out on the table that wasn’t washed immediately. Go to sleep without washing those dirty dishes? Never! Even when we would finish the Passover Seder at two in the morning, you could find Mom cleaning up. I’m not sure why it couldn’t be left till the morning, but that just wasn’t the way she did things. Maybe it was some family tradition or ritual that she had learned when she was growing up. But whatever the reason, things just had to be a certain clean and tidy way.


And it wasn’t only the kitchen that had to be spic and span – nothing could be left out of its home. Jackets, coats, boots, etc., had their closet and that’s where they had to be placed. Absolutely no placing coats on chairs or throwing them on the couch. The special holiday silverware? Of course it also had its special box where sparkling spoons, knives, and forks were placed until the next time.

If heaven had a unique smell, it would be the incredible smell of Mom’s chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. And if I had to choose between heaven and Mom’s cookies, Mom’s cookies would win hands down. I remember coming home from a boring day at primary school and walking into the kitchen. “Hey, Mom, what’s in the oven?” I asked politely. “Chocolate chip cookies, and they’ll be ready soon. Just make sure you don’t do anything noisy to disrupt the baking process!” That was another rule we had in the house: If anything was in the oven, we were forbidden to jump, make noise, or do anything. What connection there was I wasn’t quite sure, but if it was going to affect the scrumptious baked goods, then I did not want to be the son responsible for the damages.

Many years later when we would visit Mom after Dad had passed away, those same chocolate chip cookies were waiting for me and my family. Traditions are meant to be passed down from generation to generation, and nothing could be more memorable than the tradition of tasting those cookies. The way they just melted in your mouth, dripped onto your chin, and gently found their way to your tummy remains etched in my mind and heart.

The second most impressive creations in Mom’s kitchen were the heavenly holiday meals. One of those special side dishes was the “potato boat.” After making baked potatoes, Mom would scoop out the insides and place then into these silver boats and then adorn them with paprika. And each and every time they came out of the oven as crispy as the last time. Years later we would make our own potato boats sans the silver containers, but it wasn’t quite the same. It seemed a very simple formula to repeat, but somehow Mom knew just how to do it 100% right.

Rosh Hashana was the time for Mom’s gefilte fish. Nowadays, we go to the supermarket, buy frozen gefilte fish, boil it, and voilà! But not Mom. She bought the fresh carp, ground it in a special grinder that I can still see in that kitchen, and made her own gefilte fish. Nothing today could compare, but how could it? Mom’s was made with her love and care, and with those ingredients, today’s gefilte fish pales in comparison. Dessert time for that holiday was always sponge cake with fresh strawberries oozing down inside and outside. It’s the kind of cake you dream about. And then there was Mom’s blueberry cake that must have had a million of those blue guys bursting inside every inch.

Nonetheless, there was one item in Mom’s kitchen which I really disliked growing up. That was the red borscht (beets) whose taste and smell I felt like running away from every time Mom served it. When she would serve us that bloody red stuff, I would take the sour cream container and pour glops of it into the borscht in order to hide its taste. I’m sure she meant well and thought it was healthy, but I would have none of it. I don’t recall if at some point she caught on that it just wasn’t the delicacy for me, but till today beets are one of those things I will not go near.

Passover in Mom’s kitchen was indeed an undertaking. First of all, I looked forward to the barrel of green dishes and silverware that was kept in our garage from year to year. We carefully wrapped those glass dishes in newspaper so they wouldn’t break, and as we unwrapped them I checked out last year’s sports news. “Phillies win in extra innings,” said the headlines. Mom would soak our regular glasses for three days, each day changing the water as is prescribed by Jewish law. And then they were okayed for Passover use.

But all of this was only in preparation for the Seder nights and rituals. My eldest brother, Mark, would assign parts to all the participants at the Seder. We used the Maxwell House English-Hebrew version of which I still have a copy for posterity. Dad always seemed to get the part about Bnei Brak where the sages of old (including Rabbi Akiva) sat and discussed the Exodus from Egypt. But he pronounced it as “Benny Berak,” which always got a chuckle from the crowd. And where was Mom throughout the recitations of the ten plagues, etc.? Why, of course, she was busy in heaven’s kitchen making sure everything was just right, but from time to time she would come out and join us as well. It just wouldn’t be the family meal without Mom there.

Another of Mom’s specialties was hamantashen, the three-cornered cookie with jam or prune filling inside that was supposed to be like the hat that the wicked Haman wore on his head in the Purim story. However, my favorite filling was the juicy cherry one and I always looked for those to devour first. One year, during my college days, I went to learn in Israel. It turned out to be one of the most traumatic years in Israel’s history, when the Egyptians and Syrians teamed up to attack little Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Those memories of the first siren which warned everyone that war had broken out still remain with me, but the hamentashen have their place in that story as well.

It was right before Purim and I was missing Mom’s hamentashen, but then I received a message from a synagogue member that she had been given cherry hamentashen to give me. When I heard that this woman was with a group staying at the King David Hotel, I really got excited, expecting an invitation for a meal. Yeshiva boys are always hungry and I was no exception. As it turned out, the visitor was not staying at the King David, but rather at the Kings Hotel, and the difference between them was like night and day. Nonetheless, my excitement was growing by the minute as the hour of our meeting arrived. I walked into the hotel lobby and spotted the synagogue group, some of whom I knew from home. And then Mrs. Goldberg came over and gave me a big kiss from Mom and Dad, which was really kind of yucky, but I was willing to endure personal humiliation for Mom’s hamentashen and an invitation for a meal. Mrs. G handed me a box that I received greatfully, and then I asked, “Is that all, Mrs. Goldberg?”

“Yes, Gary,” she said (although most of my friends knew me as Zalman from high school, my parents and others called me Gary), “that’s about it. Were you expecting something else?” “Oh, no,” I replied, and then I asked how my family was just to be polite. Mrs. G said that everyone was doing well and sent their love to me from Philadelphia. Wow, I thought to myself, no invitation for a meal or even a snack… Wasn’t it traditional to invite starving guys like me for a meal? Maybe Mrs. Goldberg didn’t know about this custom, but I felt let down. How could someone come this far and not offer me more that the hamentashen? And then I realized how lucky I was. Here I am 6,000 miles away from home and Mrs. G gives me the incredible chance to feel the taste of Mom’s heavenly kitchen.

And so it seemed that G-d was indeed smiling down on me from His heavenly abode, and the angels were all singing in unison one of those Halleluyahs. As I put that first cherry hamentashen in my mouth, I was not only getting a taste of home but also a taste of Mom’s heavenly kitchen.


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Rabbi Zalman Eisenstock, author of “Psalms: An Eternal Treasure,” is a freelance writer and educator living in Efrat, Israel. He can be contacted at [email protected].