Steam out of dutch oven

Sandy Hermanoff writes about what home means to her.

The New Yorker’s Erin Overbey wrote a column “The Meaning of Home.” It was about journalist and screenwriter Nora Ephron and her love affair with the Apthorp, a Beaux-Arts building on the Upper West Side of New York where she lived for more than 20 years. For her, it was what happened under that roof.

It made me think of what home means to me. It made me realize how deeply those words reach into my heart to be thankful for having a roof over my head and being able to gut through this pandemic.

Sure, we’re all very anxious to see family, friends and to sit in a restaurant, have a glass of wine. But being at home through this brings back so many memories of other places I call home. Actually, I’m very grateful for all the homes I have had — and my Jewish upbringing.

Sandy Hermanoff
Sandy Hermanoff

The question becomes, can you fall in love with a home? Even though you can’t physically be in a home, can you still love it? I say yes. It’s the memories and so much more. Those memories can take you there if you allow them. No clicking heels like Dorothy. Just let your mind do its thing.

I remember coming to my parents’ house the first time I returned from Ohio State where the cafeteria food was, from 1 to 10, at best — a 1. It was a cool, October Friday late in the afternoon. Soon we would be celebrating Shabbat, and that was something I sorely missed at school.

When I walked in the house, I put everything down, ran into the kitchen and lay on the floor. My parents thought something was wrong with me because I was breathing deeply. I must tell you, the aromas were intoxicating. It was chopped liver, chicken soup with homemade kreplach, roast chicken, potato kugel — and my mom’s very own chocolate cake (which everyone in the family has tried to replicate). I was home. I was in a safe place with love where I grew up. I can close my eyes today and virtually walk through my parents’ house. I’ve inhaled deeply in my own house when I’ve made my mom’s recipes, especially on Shabbat.

Last Friday night, I made my bubbie’s paprikash. The aroma in my kitchen was incredible. I closed my eyes, and I could see her kitchen. Her stove laden with steaming pots of gefilte fish and chicken soup; her oven filled with fragrant challahs and sticky buns. Oh, yes, and kishka and helzel. Not to mention gribenes (which Soupy Sales said killed a lot of Jews). When I walked into her house, I was home. It was a safe place with love. I can close my eyes and take a virtual tour, which I often do.

I am grateful for where I live now with my husband, Michael. My father-in-law built the house in 1957. After my in-laws passed away, we decided to move in. Sure, we have made some changes, but it is to me what the Apthorp was to Nora Ephron. We’ve raised a family, I’ve survived two breast cancers under this roof, celebrated 45 years of marriage, hosted lots of fundraisers and parties.

We have done our best to muddle through this deadly virus. It’s been hard not to see our children and grandchildren for more than a year. Zoom and the others are fine, but I miss the hugs and the in-person conversations. I miss making all those special recipes for them.

My Friday night candles, my mother’s, photos of my parents and other keepsakes take me to the other homes I’ve treasured. My one remaining aunt on my mother’s side, Aunt Char, who is now 96, and I talk often, reminiscing about Bubbie, my mom, my other aunts and uncles who are no longer here. We laugh. We cry.

But most of all, when I look at the photos of my parents, I never fail to get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. My father had his own company, Refrigeration & Heating, in Canton, Ohio, for 70 some years. He was a gabbi, led the Chevrah Kadisha for 60 years, following in his father’s footsteps. He was on the team that developed the heat pump with General Electric and that was his nickname: Mr. Heat Pump. He was president of the shul Shaaray Torah for many years. My mother was his rock. She was a fabulous, caring woman who was my rock and who made a beautiful home for my Dad and me.

Jewish tradition makes a house a home. It’s just not the books and prayers. It’s the whole gashicht: the aromas of food, the sweet anticipation of sharing holidays and dinners with immediate and extended families. And going to Temple again for services!

“We’ll be back to normal soon,” I’ve heard people say. That’s great, but my fondest wish is to hug my kids and grandchildren, look into their faces and revel in how much I love them.

Oh, yes, and, of course, to cook for them again! It’s going to be a great feast and love affair just like Nora Ephron says it would.

Sandy Hermanoff is an area public relations consultant who loves to cook and bake.