Arts & Culture

Kiddush: A Timeless Classic

I can remember sitting next to my father in shul, an antsy 10 year old waiting none-too-patiently for the announcements that would herald the end of the service. I knew they would come, I just didn’t know if they would … Read More

By / December 20, 2008

I can remember sitting next to my father in shul, an antsy 10 year old waiting none-too-patiently for the announcements that would herald the end of the service. I knew they would come, I just didn’t know if they would include it-the holy grail of shul attendance. Finally, they came. The shul’s vice president, a boxing promoter with a long ponytail and cowboy hat, strutted to the bimah and stood in front of the Ark.

"This week’s parsha class will be this afternoon," droned the VP, "followed by Mincha shortly after."

He went on to tell us the schedule for the rest of the week, punctuated by other supposedly relevant announcements, but I could see no one was interested. All anyone really wanted to know was one piece of information: was there going to be a kiddush?

Suddenly, his tone changed. His eyes met audience. He stood up straighter. And the side conversations screeched to a halt.

"This week’s kiddush is sponsored by the Katz family," the VP said, and you could almost picture everyone in their suits and talesim jumping up and slapping each other "high five" like a bunch of frat guys at a homecoming football game. To be sure, there was no outward change in anyone’s behavior. People simply turned their prayer books to the next part of the service with a little more fervor than before. But you could feel the anticipation in the air. Little conversations formed between the machers, each of them firing different questions:

"Who the hell are the Katzes anyway?"

"Hey, is it a hot kiddush or what?"

The rumors flew around the pews. "I hear there’s going to be cholent," someone said, and suddenly, by way of his big mouth, everyone had these visions of a full blown, hot kiddush, "Gala Kiddush" as some upper west side shuls like to call it (similar to the way motel chains call free donuts and coffee a continental breakfast), replete with cholent, kishke and potato kugel.

The rumors were unconfirmed, of course, until the children abandoned their fathers’ sides in order to do a little reconnaissance mission of their own-and, of course, to escape the rabbi’s droning speech. We ran up the three flights of stairs, hearts pounding in preparation, dreaming of the Ultimate Kiddush. Suddenly, though, we were stopped-by a locked door and what can only be described as a kiddush bouncer. There he stood, just inside the social hall, directing old, white-haired ladies (a.k.a. the sisterhood) on where to place the gefilte fish platters.

I was always one of the taller ones, so I was designated the "scout." I wish we had been smart enough to bring binoculars, so we could at least tell whether there were food warmers on the tables-placed thus so that, when the last notes of Anim Zmiros were heard, and everyone knew the locusts were coming to wreak havoc on the land, the food staff could deposit the dishes. Pronto.

Sometimes, of course, we were lucky enough to get past the kiddush bouncers. Once in a while we knocked on the door and he actually let us in. But it was rare. He knew better than to let a bunch of kids into a nicely prepared Kiddush; the orange soda wouldn’t have lasted three minutes under the sly hands of 10- and 12-year-old boys. Neither would those little rainbow cakes that every Jewish kid grows up eating on Shabbos. The bouncer might also have been wary of ruining the caterer’s next job, since we were sure to report back our findings to the congregation below. For instance, he didn’t want the women to know that the gefilte fish platter’s soggy lettuce leaves had been reused so often their veins had been flattened to obscurity. He didn’t want the Men’s Club knowing that the booze table consisted of Slivovitz from last Pesach.

Of course, it didn’t make that much difference when we actually got to the kiddush. I was a pretty cute kid, so I was able to make a face and grab the cholent spoon first, before it was dropped into the pot by some clumsy lady and made disgusting by wet napkins placed on the handle to cover up the residue. I could also climb under tables and between people’s legs without getting too much attention-aside from my father’s, that is. You see, he was always telling me to "calm down" and wait; that the food wasn’t going anywhere. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. The food was going somewhere-right onto people’s plates. I wanted to tell him that-to warn him that the cranberry and broccoli salad was almost gone and I hadn’t even gotten to taste it yet-but I was afraid he might reward me with a patch.

Kiddush hasn’t really changed much for me; its one of those timeless classics. Of course, I’ve matured enough to make it past the kiddush bouncers and do some actual reconnaissance, rather then a covert mission ending in failure. But I still sit in shul, waiting impatiently for the announcements. The difference is that now I’m more sophisticated. For instance: I find out ahead of time where there’s a Kiddush-and then base my attendance on it.

Luckily, I’ve developed into a confident individual. I can push over both children and old ladies in my effort to reach the kugel tray. I’m better at gauging whether or not to start with hot or cold food, based on the traffic of the crowd. Indeed, I’ve honed many important skills that I learned first as a child. But the Kiddush factor will always remain.

Moral of the story? You can stick a boy in a suit and hope he’ll rise to the occasion. But ultimately, it’s a waste of time. He’ll find a way around it.

Trust me, I know.