Fridays are one of those days that lack a lunch break especially on those short Fridays in the winter, when your all bundled up, singing licha dodi while adjusting your long underwear while sitting in the pew thinking about warm chicken soup, salad with mangoes in it and war apple pie. For two days straight your thoughts have been on the fast approaching Friday night dinner, the highlight of mine and I am sure many of yours weeks. Thoughts of divrei torah, possible community political discussions, maybe some hot frummies will be there, I wonder if they have zomicks challah? I hope they have white meat chicken and meat as well.
Kiddush went smoothly, not too much small talk a quick shalom aleichem and aishes chayil, just one more task and your home free to the salad course. Suddenly it happens, shloimy were washing stop reading that book, sprintza I cant find the salt, and finally shloimy everyone has washed and their all waiting for you. Silence, awkward silence, husband tries some corny silent finger cutting jokes, child screams nuuuuuuuuu at another who is pulling her hair, uhhhhhhhh, nuuuuuuuuuuu, hunger pangs wreaking havoc on my belly, make hamotzy damnit I want tos cream, who cares about the kid, pre-teens are brats anyways. The gefilte fish stares at me and I at it, a duel of the mind, you cant have me yet bitch it screams through its carrot eyes, I stare at it and lick my lips as I look at the children making faces at each other. The smooth humus is waiting for its eventual purpose as a home for a recently sliced piece of challah, the salad sits and waits patiently slowly becoming more soggy under the weight of its balsamic blanket, the challah knife flexes its muscles and anticipates the thickness of its task tonight, I wonder what kind of challah it is? Will it be doughy and dense or flaky and full of air? Is it homemade or store bought? Will the host force the salt into its cervices without hope for a shake off?
Ok everyone is seated why are you waiting, the knife, the damned knife, he forgot the knife, just rip the bread man, rip it don’t worry I wont tell your Rebbe that you switched to sphardi custom for one night, rip it come on I am hungry, and your children are growing antsy. No we must wait for the cutting utensil his eyes say firmly as he sees and feels my pain. Ok the knife is here do it buddy. The quick swipe and then boom the bracha is made, hurry up dude, the knife is in the flakes are flying, I hope its not store bought fluffy water challah, I hope I don’t get the end piece, I hope that little kid picking his nose doesn’t touch every piece, what’s the hold up now I wonder as I see the bread freshly cut fearing the inevitable teeth which it is about to be crushed into a digestible
mush. Oh the basket is not on the table. Dude just put the bread on a plate, nope we need the basket, arghhhh, ok the basket is here, distribute the bread. While this absurd wait which makes many members of klal yisroel suffer countless times, I have decided to use my time wisely, I grab the chrain, fish and salad, dumping portions of each hastily on my plate to the dismay of my manner biding hosts, “what does this guy think he’s doing?” I can hear them saying as I mind my own and mix my chrayonaise to my exact viscosity.
Bread never tasted so good, even though to my dismay it is store bought, fluffy, water challah. But my piece is tiny, what gives bro, I want to say but instead just ask for another piece. No worries until the 17th piece asking at which time they might as well give me my own basket of bread. Why must people cut the pieces so damned small? What gives, is it ego trip, you know he has to ask the host and the host controls the distribution system so he’s always the boss. Or is it really for my our benefit and his, he figures challah ruins appetites of the impatient who pig out on bread and then don’t have enough room to pack the meat in, this guy doesn’t want leftover kugel for 3 nights this week, so he figures he will rig the process and give less challah, thereby forcing people to eat more food. Or maybe they think the 3 challahs sitting on the blech aren’t enough for 2 meals of 3 people and they want to conserve and ration portions.
So I eat my challah and dip it in humus, babganoush, chrayonaise, chicken soup, and it is finally retired once the soup course is over. There are always the old Yiddish dudes that feel the challah piece is their second fork for chowing down on cholent and other meat dish specialties, but I retire the challah once the main course is served, only to bring back the bread if in the rare instance the main course sucks – quite rare.
And so the art of cutting challah continues, from a quick hamotzi, quick down time between the bracha and cutting, sprinkling of the salt, division of the spoils, distribution of the wealth, sizing of the portions, and somewhere in the midst of this madness eating the darned stuff, it all boils down to the whole challah event as being an art, either skillfully and quick right down to ruining the whole meal due to carelessness and meager portions.