What Was Broken, And Healed, Over The Holidays


No sooner had the recent season of Jewish holidays come to an end than I found myself reflecting on the highlights.

Among them were the standards — the praying, the eating, and the catching up with friends and family around the holiday table. And the non-standard, like the storm that upended our sukkah and the meal at which I upended family tradition, making unstuffed cabbage instead of the stuffed variety. I suspect I crossed a line (sorry, Mom!), but it was just as tasty and took a lot less time to prepare. 

Eclipsing most of these recent Tishrei memories, however, was the fact that my favorite casserole dish did not survive the holidays. You might wonder how the loss of an inexpensive piece of bakeware could be one of my standout takeaways from the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. I’m not sure myself. I can only tell you it’s the truth in my heart.

I’d finally fallen asleep after Kol Nidre when a loud noise coming from the kitchen startled me awake. I figured one of the plates from our pre-fast meal, then drying on the counter, had smashed onto the floor, though my exhaustion kept me from investigating further. I went to restore order as soon as the first bits of morning sunlight cut through the blinds. To my surprise, nothing appeared broken or out of place. Perhaps the bang I heard was a product of my dreams.

Only when I opened a cabinet did I discover that the vintage, round Pyrex casserole dish — the one in which I’d baked countless potato kugels — had shattered. I gasped before making quick work of the cleanup and heading over to our synagogue.

My husband and I were newlyweds when I acquired it years ago from my grandmother, who was giving away kitchen items she no longer used. I was taken with the casserole’s unique shape and depth, its amber hue from hours logged in the oven and the curlicue design etched into the clear glass. 

I cooked with it often, though treated it with great care. Potato kugels emerged perfectly shaped, ready to snuggle on top of a cholent in the crockpot. After my grandmother passed away, I would imagine her palms in mine as I wrapped them around the dish, reminding me of her wisdom and practicality in the way other small items I inherited did not.

After it broke, my first worry was that I’d never find a suitable replacement. Then I assigned the casserole’s loss deeper, outsize meaning. It had shattered on Yom Kippur of all days. I let the shards sit in a salad bowl for more than a week, unable to throw them away, as if they possessed some sacred quality.

I emailed my husband’s cousin Ljerka, a scientist at a glass company, to ask how this could have happened spontaneously. “It sounds like glass fatigue,” she wrote. “If there is a crack tip, water and moisture can sneak in, reacting to propagate the crack over time, causing it to break. Sometimes it takes years.” In our case, several decades.

Ljerka’s explanation comforted me, reframing the loss as a fact of science rather than a spiritual or foreboding omen. It gave me the push I needed to throw the remains of the dish away, resolving to buy a new one after the holidays. And that, I reasoned, was that.

But it wasn’t, and I approached Sukkot with more than an ounce of regret. Not that I thought I could have repaired the casserole, nor did I believe that tossing the shards would change how I felt about my grandmother, though it did seem as if yet another piece of her had disappeared from the world.

The Hebrew Bible has a funny way of revealing the words that need to reach us at a given moment, enlightening, soothing or uplifting us. It often happens that a line in the weekly Torah portion answers a question I’ve been pondering, for example. So it did not surprise me when these words jumped off the page as we read Kohelet, the Book of Ecclesiastes, on the Shabbat of Sukkot: A time to seek and a time to lose/ a time to keep and a time to cast away/ a time to rend and a time to sew.

But loving and remembering transcend time, I whispered to Kohelet in return, caught up as they are in the ongoing cycle of life. Broken or whole, they are an essential part of who we are and how we live. And they remain safely ensconced deep inside us, even after they are long gone from our cabinets.

Merri Ukraincik, a regular contributor, is a columnist for the New Jersey Jewish News. Follow her at merriukraincik.com.