My brother had said that they lived in a Jewish neighborhood. It’s been fun and fascinating to see just how Jewish.
On the nearby main street, I haven’t seen such a density of synagogues since the year I lived in Jerusalem.
My first morning here, my brother packed up some of his metal cookware – a few bowls, a whisk, a cast iron pan, a pot and a couple of pie plates – and we brought it to a nearby synagogue to dunk it all in boiling water to make it kosher for Passover. I’ve never been strict about keeping kosher, but it was fun to see their system: a maaaaaaassive pot of water boiled on the industrial-sized stove. A couple of volunteers directed everyone to put their cookware into mesh bags, a few items per bag. A woman with potholders protecting her hands carried each bag up a stepladder to dunk it in the vat of boiling water. Then the freshly kashered items were laid out to dry and cool off. And with a bag of rejuvenated cookware, we went on our merry way.
This morning, I walked down to the pharmacy to pick up a couple things. Something in the toy section caught my eye: Passover toys. My favorite was the package of juggling matzah balls (in other words, juggling bean bags printed like matzah). And this was a national chain. My brother had told me to go to Glatt Mart to fully absorb the neighborhood. So on my way home, I did.
Glatt, by the way, refers to a strict category of kosher food. When kosher food isn’t kosher enough, go glatt kosher. Hence: Glatt Mart. It’s like a whole store called SuperKosher. And in my shorts (gasp! bare legs! among the Orthodox!), I waded in.
It was a mob scene. On a Tuesday morning. Passover starts next Monday night, so people were stocking up on matzah, matzah meal, matzah farfel, everything they’d need for their week without bread, rice, lentils, or anything else that’s considered leaven. (Yes, leaven is defined insanely broadly. No, I won’t be explaining Jewish doctrine here.) Special kosher-for-Passover baked goods, like macaroons, were sealed shut with stickers declaring in Hebrew: “Kosher for Passover. For Passover.” In other words, don’t break the seal until Passover, or you’ve ruined the one chance these sawdust-y bricks have to be useful.
The last of the baked goods that aren’t kosher for Passover – rolls, breads, cookies – had been exiled to an endcap with a sign warning potential buyers: “Not Kosher for Passover.”
I’ve never seen such a large selection of borscht. Plain borscht. Low sodium borscht. Borscht with shredded beets. Low calorie borscht. And tucked in the middle of it, schav. Pronounced sss-tchav. Apparently it’s sorrel soup, but I know it only as one of the few foods I have tasted and almost spat out. And then there was the frozen gefilte fish section. Thick rolls of gefilte fish, waiting for Jewish mothers and bubbies to defrost them and shape the pale little nuggets that we all know and few love. Kind of like frozen cookie dough, but… gefilte fish.
Today we went for a bike ride. As we reached his block, I suddenly heard my brother say, “Hi, Yitzchak!” He pulled over and started chatting with a bearded, black-coated Orthodox man. Apparently Yitzchak had introduced himself to my brother and his wife when he saw them putting up their mezuzah on their front door shortly after moving in. Today he talked at length about tefillin, telling stories that were a mishmash of kabbalistic, mishnaic, and who-knows-what-else. Oh, and he thought my brother and I were twins.
We’re going to round out the LA Jewish experience on Friday: we’re going to the gay synagogue for Shabbat services. I love that my straight brother and his wife are happy to take me to a gay shul. Hell, it was their idea. And I think my frequent use of the word “hell” tells you how religious I am.