Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Exchange of Sweets - and Cultures

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Exchange of Sweets - and Cultures

Article excerpt

This past Sunday afternoon, a US Postal Service van pulled in our driveway, and the driver hustled toward our house carrying her clipboard and an odd-shaped bundle.

After signing for the package sent Express Mail from a friend living outside Los Angeles, I unwrapped a white-and-blue-checked dish towel and then a layer of aluminum foil that surrounded a plastic bag filled with small triangular pastries. Cherry and apricot jam, as well as dark poppy seeds, sparkled in the little windows formed by folding the dough around different fillings.

I read the note my friend Robin had included with her gift: "Hamantasch or Haman's Hat. In the feast of Purim, we celebrate the festival in which Esther and Mordecai defeated Haman. We make these pastries in the shape of Haman's hat."

I brewed a pot of tea and shared a cup with my husband as we sampled the treats. The soft dough melted around our bites of fruit or poppy seeds. I thought of my friend baking these sweets for her family's Friday night Sabbath supper, and how kind it was of her to think of me.

Robin and I had met a year and a half ago as first- semester graduate students in a master of fine arts program that required us to be on campus one week each semester.

That week, we often ate meals together and discussed our family lives and our hopes as writers. But on Friday night she looked gloomy as she settled in on the other side of the cafeteria table.

"Is something wrong?" I asked.

"It's the beginning of Sabbath. My family is sharing challah bread and lighting our candles."

"Please, tell me more." I said. What would you be doing?"

"We start by lighting the candles, but since striking a match is work, we hide the act," she answered. Robin shielded her eyes and pretended to strike a match. "And we recite prayers in Hebrew."

Robin explained her Friday-evening celebration, how the ritual united her family and linked them with their ancestors.

We finished our dinner, and she smiled. "Thank you," she said. "It helped to talk about it. I almost felt like I was home."

"Thank you," I replied, "for giving me a glimpse into your world."

When the residency ended, we exchanged e-mail addresses and, during the following months, exchanged news of our families and prayer requests.

This past fall, when we again gathered for our residency, Robin and I once more dined together on Friday evening, and I gave her eight candles to take home.

"For your menorah," I said. "You told me last year that Hanukkah gifts should be simple and homemade. I like that."

Although Robin discovered that the tapers were too large for her menorah, she wrote that her family lit them on Friday evenings, which pleased me very much.

So as I folded Robin's dish towel on Monday, I cherished her Purim gift and wished I could fill the towel with something special that represented my spring rituals and send it back. …

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