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  • Jane

It’s a win-win

I’m sitting at my desk engrossed in transcribing the Polish words mum’s taught me recently. There are only a few pages left and I resist getting up to put her to bed, even though it’s nearly 11pm. She’s been sitting in the kitchen, watching TV for hours on end, and I’m feeling guilty. Yasha, my eldest son, has just returned from a late evening walk and, famished, is preparing something to eat.

Snippets of conversation waft from the kitchen and make me laugh. Whenever mum sees Yasha she immediately requests hot tea. I am reminded of Pavlov’s dog experiment.

‘Yasha, hot tea!’ She accentuates the ‘h’ as if she’s exhaling steam on a cold window pane. The tea is ready but first he insists she recite a special prayer before she drinks.

Yasha has Aspergers which might explain his obsessive religious rituals. The prayer is printed on a sheet of laminated paper. He holds it up for her to read aloud. As if to taunt him some more, I hear mum whisper a second request, ‘Yasha, some bread’. I chuckle to myself knowing he won’t refuse her, but all he really wants is to settle down and enjoy his meal.

Following the rituals is a complex process, especially when giving mum a piece of bread. First the bread must be kosher. He won’t use our regular bread. Next, he has to wash mum’s hands carefully with a bowl of water and a small jug and then prompt her to read the specific prayer for eating bread. This prayer is much longer than the one for drinking a cup of tea.

Often these laws, even though I don’t keep them, make me want to pull my hair out. But tonight I’m just a silent observer, and with some distance I sense that the exchange in the kitchen is both funny and poignant.

Mum snaps out of her dazed state and recites the prayer in a loud, determined voice. I’m amused because mum has never been religious, in fact the opposite. She seemed to scorn religion and always said the only god was in her heart. Growing up, we never kept any Jewish customs or dietary laws - fresh rolls spread with butter and layers of ham were a common treat, and there was always bread during the Passover holiday, when you were meant to eat only Matzah (bread that hasn't risen). I believe it took many decades for mum to even accept being Jewish. All the horrors of The War, in particular losing her mother at Auschwitz, turned mum off God and the religion.

The little scene moves me - mum so eagerly pleasing Yasha by observing the rituals - and he, so tenderly interacting with her. It’s a win-win, mum gets her tea and toast, and he gets the reward of doing a ‘Mitzvah’, a good deed.

By now it’s way after 11pm. I force myself to close my laptop. Time for mum to go bed.


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