I had a surprise phone call this morning, Sunday, 1 December 2019. It was from Jechaim, who is the brother of my son’s wife. He lives in Amsterdam, where he is fulfilling a lifetime passion and a dream. He recently opened a Baking Lab
History of the Baking Lab
Jechiam’s grandfather was a baker in Jerusalem, and he proudly displays the key from is ancestor’s business in the entrance of the shop. While baking is in his blood, the practice of this ancient art at Linnaeusstraat 99, is very different from the manner it was performed two generations ago.
Baking Bread Today
This unusual entrepreneur is also imbued with the qualities of both an artist and a scientist. His Baking Lab explores the baking of different types of bread. What he does is to take into account modern technology and combines it with ancient wisdom?
The baking of bread is a sensory experience. It involves the tactile sensations of stirring, mixing, kneading and pouring, added to those of smell, taste and vision. Together with his staff, which includes students studying technology at the local University, he is continuously exploring new techniques to enhance their production.
Of course, Jechaim’s scientific background is also relevant to his success. He knows all about the enzymes, the temperatures and other variables which affect the quality of the crust, the texture and the look.
This contemporary baker tells us that baking bread is, “not difficult, but neither is it a piece of cake!”
But Jechaim’s phone call was not to discuss his unique business, or the reason why he keeps Wild Turkeys as pets, but to condole with me on the loss of my ex-husband.
He wanted to know how his brother-in-law was coping with becoming the new head of the family on the loss of his father. And, how the extended family was dealing with the grieving process. He then moved on to explore my relationship with my Judaism. He had heard second or third hand about my unconventional upbringing and was curious to know how I related to my heritage at this stage.
Forging my Identity
I found myself telling him about how I was brought up in denial of my own identity. Our family had come to South Africa in 1947 after the conclusion of the Second World War. My father saw this move as an opportunity to allow me to live my life without the prejudices that have been projected onto Jews through the centuries. I was sent to a church school and was enrolled as a Unitarian.
This was confusing to me, and I had little opportunity to discover the rationale. If I questioned my father about the meaning of being a Jew, I was fobbed off with the instruction that, “I do not have to worry my pretty little head,” about such things. His methodology was for my own good; he tried to reassure me. This information was not very useful in terms of helping me to form my personal identity.
Table Tennis saved the Day
It was a sheer fluke that I became friendly with some Jewish girls during my university days. I became a member of the Table Tennis team at the University of Cape Town, and there I met Debbie. Debbie planned to go on a NUSAS (National Unions of South African Students) tour. This was a six week excursion attended by 60 students from different South African Universities. In 1956, we travelled for ten days by boat on the Athlone Castle to Britain, spent four weeks in England and Europe, then returned on the Union Castle Shipping Line back to Cape Town.
Meeting my Children’s father
It was on that trip I became friendly with Marion, so when the next question from Jechiam was about the manner in which I met my ex-husband, I told him the story of a dinner party. This was given by a couple who were friends of Marion. They knew Joe, a bachelor of 32, and wanted to fix her up with him. I was also invited to this dinner where we had some overcooked Spaghetti Bolognaise – I think we arrived late!
For some reason, Joe fancied me, instead of Marion. My mother told me a couple of days later that, “A guy phoned you. He said his name was Joe Smith, but I am not sure who he is!”
So that was the beginning of a very short romance. In answering Jechiam’s further questions, I was reminded that we met in April 1959, and were married in September of the same year. No long courtships. No living together. If a girl was not married in her early 20’s, then she was on the shelf in those days.
My Road to Embracing Judaism
Joe happened to be Jewish, so I started on the road to establishing my understanding of what it meant to be a Jew. I went the academic route by taking courses in Judaica with the University of South Africa, and a course in Hebrew with the University of Cape Town.
While bringing up my children, I was in the position to play an active role in Jewish organisations which cemented my journey into my Jewish roots.
Ten years after my marriage, I was the mother of four children. Today my two girls live in Cape Town. My eldest son (Jechaim’s brother-in-law) came from Amsterdam for the funeral, and my youngest son came with his wife and daughter from London to mourn the loss of their father.
Thanks, Jechaim for allowing me to review my road back to my Jewish roots.