My father’s mother wasn’t what I’d call kitchen-oriented. As a young woman in Poland, she lived a busy life outside the home. We were told she’d been a spy in her youth. Or maybe a smuggler. The tales were murky.
Sarah Hiller Weisblat came to this country in 1920 with her husband and three small children. Her brothers had already immigrated and set up a business in New York City; they gave my grandfather a job.
My grandmother drew people to her. She ran her extended family and eventually her new neighborhood.
She radiated competence. Recently, I learned from my father’s cousin Herb that she actually delivered him. I don’t know whether a midwife or doctor was unavailable or whether this was something my Nana did regularly.
She was also diplomatic, perhaps a holdover from her days as a spy. When my Jewish father fell in love with my Christian mother, neither set of parents was thrilled. It wasn’t a time at which intermarriage was encouraged. Yet my grandmother welcomed my mother to the family. She recognized another smart, able woman when she saw one.
Despite her general lack of interest in cooking, I remember one dish my grandmother made well: matzo ball soup. It was especially visible at Passover since the most prominent food on the Passover table is matzo — unleavened bread. When the Jews were finally allowed to leave Egypt, according to the Exodus story, they were in such a hurry that their bread didn’t have time to rise. To remember this, their descendants eat no bread except matzo during the eight days of the holiday.
Many people jazz up their matzo balls with a little ginger or onion. In general, I’m a jazzy person, but I like my matzo balls plain, the way my grandmother made them.
When I taste my grandmother’s soup recipe, I’m transported back to her tiny house, which always seemed to expand to accommodate the many relatives and friends who came to visit, particularly at Passover.
My grandmother's Seder table was a symbol of her hospitality, her strength and the ties that brought family and friends together at holidays. Her matzo balls may have been plain, but she was anything but.
Commentator Tinky Weisblat is a writer and singer who lives in Hawley, Massachusetts.