Friday, October 19, 2012

To a Tea

When I was a little girl, my father had a Gemara Shiur-- a Talmud study group--of fellow professors. They met every Shabbos afternoon, about 15 men, and they rotated houses. When it was our turn the dining room table was laden—and I mean laden—with all sorts of goodies that my friends and I khalished over: seven-layer caked, sugar bowties, real bakery cookies with the jelly in the middle and colored sprinkles on top, fresh grapes and dried fruit, licorice, salty nuts, and my absolute favorite—chocolate covered almonds. All parve, of course.
My father would lead the shiur around that table, the enormous brown leather books open in front of all the serious men, a sea of sacred surrounding a profanely colorful spread.  All the wives would come too—and sit—with their own nosh—around the kitchen table, tsittering.
But here it is: at a certain point would come The Time To Serve The Tea.  Daddy would signal from the dining room and Mommy in the kitchen would jump up and Serve The Tea with all its fixins in frankly reverential silence. The women would wait, hushed. These were all their husbands and they did the same when it was their turn to host. Then—tea served—the tsittering would begin again.
Fast forward to when I was a young wife in Scarsdale. Robert organized a shiur, also with all the husbands we socialized with. As I set out the seven-layer cake, grapes, cookies, nuts and dried fruit I said, “Tell me when it’s time to serve the tea.”
Why, he said.
So that I can Serve The Tea.
He gave me a funny look.
“I don’t need you to serve the tea. I can serve the tea”.
He turned and started stacking up the china cups, got out the Chai, the Camomile the Peppermint, khopped the sugar bowl, and even cut up a lemon.
And just like that—I became not my mother.
Until… now. Maybe.
Every Shabbos afternoon after services we have a kiddish lunch here at the Temple. While I make the Friday night dinners for everybody, there are other people responsible for the Saturday kiddish. I’m grateful, because it’s pretty elaborate, with everybody sitting around the table-- Rosario passing plates and—hallelujah!--cleaning up.
Sruli has just finished doing services that started at 9:15 and he is the opposite of a morning person so by the time he sings V’shamru and makes Kiddish over the wine, designates the usual designee for the Challah, he plops down at the table. I take a plate, fill it with egg salad, regular salad and anything else I think he will like, and set it down in front of him. I keep an eye on, to make sure his water cup is full, and jump up when I think he needs seconds on the egg salad. I hustle to make sure the pepper shaker is within his reach. I carefully select a non-chocolate cookie and piece of cake for his dessert.
I throw some grapes on that plate, too.
Of course I also make sure to Serve Him Tea.
I’m a modern, educated woman who can support herself on the open market, runs a small business and deals with the world. All the women in this shul are modern, educated, and self-supporting. They are equal. They are wonderful and we have become friends. If I described how on tenterhooks my mother was (and IS—because she still does it!!) how alert she is, waiting for the signal to serve,  how careful to do it right—and how frankly elegantly she does it--they might laugh. Or worse, shake their heads.
Every time I serve Sruli, and it’s pretty obvious, every Shabbos afternoon at that kiddish,  I don’t say anything and none of my new women friends and congregants say anything.
But I see them watching. 

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