Voices from the field

Preserving the Teachings of My Bubby: Shabbat

By Brett Kopin

Brett Kopin has recently edited a volume written by his grandmother – Jewish educator and author of The Tattooed Torah, Marvell Ginsburg – in preparation for its publication as an e-book. This "Voices" piece is a reflection on the Chapter on Shabbat – a part of a larger curriculum for early childhood education – and is inspired by the real-life traditions that made Shabbat with his Bubby special as a child.

Repetition – whether weekly, monthly, or annually­ – links thoughts and feelings to space and time. Though traditional Judaism houses rituals in every holiday, their richness is so often enhanced by particular family rituals, usually ones that come about organically, as a consequence of the different personalities interacting around the dinner table. For many years, my family’s weekly Shabbat table was incomplete without "Bubby cookies."

The white box they came in was lined with translucent paper and had grease spots staining the outer corners. My favorites were the purple ones; my brother’s – the ones with tiny rainbow sprinkles. Pareve and freezer-burned: the centerpiece of every Shabbat meal. Not even my mother’s mushroom barley soup or savory London Broil could evoke the same emotion.

Bubby had a Friday ritual of her own. After getting the same lovely hairdo from the same lovely beauty shop, she proceeded to Chaim’s Bakery for a fresh box of cookies (if she had run out of her frozen stock). There was something special about getting the fresh box on select Friday nights, but the freezer-burned ones were equally appreciated. These, after all, were "Bubby cookies."

The family counted on Bubby to bring these cookies week after week for years – until one fateful Friday when I was 12 years old. Bubby came over and told us that she had driven by Chaim’s that day and it was closed. Like, for good. She only had a few boxes left in her freezer, and after that, well...

It took me a moment to process this: “You mean we won’t get any more Bubby cookies?” A lump was forming in my throat, and she felt my pain. “Brett, you need to write the story down.” I did not follow her advice at the time.

When I was visiting her in the hospital last year, I reminded her of the cookies and the fact that she had told me to write the story.

“Did you write the story?” she asked.

“No, Bubby, I never did.”

She frowned, and said very soberly, “Write it! You write that story down!” I told her I would. This, after all, was a tradition worth remembering.

Flash forward to May 2015. A friend and I went to pick up dinner at Hungarian Kosher Foods, a place in Chicago I had never been to but had heard so much about. Upon walking in, we turned left at the checkout counters and behold, reclining in their own display case, were the "Bubby cookies!" I was in disbelief. They even had the purple ones. The lady behind the counter gave us each a free sample, and with that first bite years of nostalgia were quenched.

Standing there, it amazed me how a simple taste, a texture, an appearance, could instantly bring back the feeling of the childhood Shabbat table – its consistency, its warmth, and especially the lived experience of having shared so many of those meals with Bubby. As I mentioned in my Mother's Day post, I have been working on editing a curriculum guide she wrote in 1970 called Teaching Holidays to Young Jewish Children. Her first section (linked at the top of the page) is on teaching Shabbat and creating a Shabbat environment for children and their families. I hope Bubby, through her teachings, will inspire some of her readers as she inspired my family just by being at the table, week after week.

Shabbat Shalom, Bubby.