Here’s a story for #PreservationDay:
My great aunt, my Zeyde’s (z”l) sister, told this story about growing up near Harrisburg as a Jew in the early-mid 1900s. She went to public school, because there wasn’t a large enough Jewish population to have a separate school, and besides, private schools costed money they didn’t have. My great aunt was always either the only Jew or one of the few Jews in her class. If there were other Jews in her class, she would make friends with them and go over their houses. But the non-Jewish kids would never invite her over. As my great aunt tells it, their parents just didn’t want them to have a Jewish kid over. So my great aunt and my Zeyde grew up living next to non-Jews but never really a part of the non-Jewish community.
But at lunch at school, my great aunt got to see what the non-Jewish kids brought. And growing up she was so resentful of the rye and whitefish sandwiches her mother would pack. She was told her food smelled weird and looked weird. She wanted to fit in, to eat what the other kids were eating. But what she fixated on was the white bread. In her house, and in the houses of all the Jewish kids she was friends with, they only ever had rye bread, challah, and the occasional bagel (this wasn’t NYC after all.) And in her mind, she imagined white bread as something wonderful that she wasn’t allowed to experience.
Both of her parents worked. When the family came over from Lithuania, they came with nothing. As the oldest, she was often left to watch the other kids. She liked to tell my Zeyde that they were going on an adventure, and then walk him through town and to the local theatre. She loved music and she was able to take music lessons, but she could rarely afford tickets to what was going on the theater. Sometimes she’d sneak in and listen from the lobby, sometimes she’d sneak out back to catch a glimpse of the actors and singers as they left or came out to take a break, often with my Zeyde in tow.
One day she was out back behind the theater alone, when from the upper window someone tossed out some trash towards the trash cans. When she was sure the coast was clear, she snuck over to it. One of the things thrown out the window were slices of white bread. And she wasn’t going to pass up her chance to try it.
That’s where her story ended, as she told it. I’m sure finally tasting it was rather disappointing.
My great aunts love for music and theatre would eventually pay off. Here’s her Wikipedia page.