Issue Thirty-Seven - Winter 2021

The Taste of Praise

By Elya Braden

In my primary-colored garden
of yeladim where we crayola’d
stick-people portraits of Judah Maccabee
and his muscled bros, Moses crossing
the Sea of Reeds, or Jonah cowering
in the belly of a lumpy, grinning whale,
every Bible story seemed to share
a common theme: They tried to kill us,
they failed, let’s eat!

My Grama Fay’s noodle kugel,
steeped in cinnamon, freckled
with stewed raisins, was the 8th
wonder of our known world,
and every kitchen memory I have
is laced with the crackle-hiss
of gribenes and onions rendering
in cast-iron. Jewish popcorn,
our mother called it.

Even American holidays were seasoned
with our immigrant hungers
as we fought for the “tushy”
on every Thanksgiving turkey,
an ancestral drive to flesh
our bones with skin and fat.

But Grama’s piece de resistance
was trotted out but once a year
to celebrate our people’s Exodus
from that narrow place, a slavery
of labor and lash, yoked to the grim
will of a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.

To mark the haste with which we fled,
we now eat matzah for eight days,
a rope that knots our people l’dor v’dor,
generation to generation. Matzah, a bland
cracker sans butter, egg or yeast,
yet Grama could spin that dross
into mouthfuls of heaven. No ordinary
matzah balls, tight fists of paste
and chew. No, hers were grapefruit-
sized, clouds of exultation melting
on our tongues.

The din of gathered family
and friends, adults shouting
their opinions, children cracking jokes,
kicking shins under the table, all
hushed when bowls of Grama’s
matzah ball soup were served, silent
but for our collective scrape and slurp.

Copyright Braden 2021