Photo Credit: Jewish Press

This week, we celebrated my daughter Lani’s second birthday party in gan. Well, to be perfectly accurate, it was her two year and two months birthday as her gan (and the rest of the country) was closed on her actual birthday due to the third national lockdown. While birthday parties are always fun, my daughter seemed inordinately excited in the days leading up to the party, constantly reminding us “Lani birthday!”

In anticipation of the big day, the gan sent me a shopping list of items to bring in for the party. The first item on the list was, of course, a birthday cake. For this purchase, I went to our favorite local bakery. Perusing the shelves of delicacies, I noticed that while every variety of cookie, rugelach, boreka, and roll was on them, no birthday cakes were on display.

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I approached the counter and asked the saleswoman how to order a birthday cake. Immediately, she flipped open a notebook and peppered me with a list of questions: Flavors? Toppings? Fillings? How many people?

As I took a moment to translate the questions in my head, I responded that it was a birthday cake for my two-year-old. “Ah,” she responded knowingly. I needed an “oogat gan” (a kindergarten cake), she said.

She promptly closed her notebook and gave me a WhatsApp number to send the picture I wanted to be printed on the cake and rang up my purchase. When I returned home, my husband asked what flavor cake I had ordered. I honestly replied that I had no idea. “Gan-flavored, I guess?”

Lani with her “oogat gan.”

When I picked up the cake weeks later, I was certainly surprised. An oogat gan is apparently a giant chocolate sheet cake with thick chocolate frosting generously sprinkled with… well, sprinkles! The picture of Daniel and Margaret Tiger that I had WhatsApped the bakery had been printed onto a thick sheet of sugar that topped off this sugary concoction.

Considering that the gan generally has a very strict “no sweets” policy, I couldn’t believe the school would even let us in the door with this cake! (I checked with other parents, though: This really is the standard cake!) Don’t worry, we also sent along strawberries, apples, and oranges to balance out the dessert menu.

Another item we had to send to gan were pictures of Lani through the years as the teachers create a memory board for her – similar to those one sees at bat and bar mitzvot. Embarrassingly, we have not printed pictures since our aliyah, so the last pictures we had of Lani were almost a year old! Looking through those pictures, I was amazed at how much she’s changed over the last year.

Indeed, I could not believe how grown up she looked at her party. Sitting on her birthday throne, crowned in a wreath of flowers (another item from the gan birthday shopping list), bedecked in her best party dress, she looked like such a little lady! (While we couldn’t attend the party in person due to coronavirus restrictions, the gan sent us a non-stop stream of pictures and videos so we could feel present.)

To me, the party seemed almost more like a wedding than a birthday party. Lani took turns dancing one by one with each of her friends as the rest of the class sat in a circle playing instruments and singing birthday songs. At another point, Lani sat in the middle of a toy parachute with a pile of balloons as her classmates lifted and lowered the edges of the parachute, causing the balloons to bounce around her.

Lani even had her own special birthday ceremony in which she jumped through two decorated hula hoops representing the two years of her life. Lani’s favorite part of the party, though, was certainly the oogat gan. Even after all the other kids had finished their cake and headed outside to play, Lani sat on her throne, savoring each last morsel of chocolate goodness.

The teachers sent us a hilarious video of them trying to tempt Lani to give up the plate as they cleaned up after the party. “No,” she adamantly insists as she shakes her head with a huge chocolatey smile plastered on her face. “Lani cake!”

Looking through the pictures and videos, I can see why Lani had been so excited for her party. Friends, food, and fun – what more could a two-year-old want? Lucky for Lani, with two months of cancelled parties for the gan to catch up on, there are a lot more celebrations to look forward to in her near future.

Happy belated birthday, Lani!

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Aviva Karoly made aliyah to Israel with her husband and two children on March 19, with Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, and JNF-USA. She can be reached at myaliyah2020@gmail.com.