I am not a candidate for typical addictions. Smoke of any kind seizes my lungs if I am within thirty feet of the smoker, and makes me hack and gasp. Thus, any kind of smoking substance is, as they say in Merry England, right out.
I will get mildly tipsy after two sips of any kind of wine (even Manischewitz). Everything I encounter will become suddenly, terrifically funny. Thus, I don’t bother with wine. I have a serious nature about the world and do not intend to find it funny. Absurd, yes. Funny, no.
I don’t particularly like the taste of beer and I overreact to simple drugs given to infants. I don’t like imbibing things that are likely to make me sick. I have too many things to do to be sick.
Most importantly, I need very little stimulus to feel extravagantly happy.
I will dance about the kitchen to (I know, I know) the soundtracks of old musicals. Ripe bananas sliced, frozen for about an hour, and then whirred in the blender with a little soy milk will produce what I call “banana ice cream.” Slurping down said product will absolutely make my day (particularly if it is the dessert to spicy Indian dishes). If my cat, Beowulf, deigns to sit on my lap while I type, as he is doing just now, I will find that all is much righter with the world than I imagined.
Still, I have an addiction. Not surprisingly, it is a Jewish one.
I confess: If I go more than two weeks without a bialy, I will become grumpy and sad. I will complain about the lackluster bagel everyone thinks of when they free associate the words “Jewish” and “food.” I will cast aspersions on those who eat the tarted-up versions with chocolate chips and cinnamon, whether the consumers are Jewish or goyish. The only bagel I care for is pumpernickel, and it cannot compete with a bialy. It makes a substitute, but a poor one.
Google “bialy” and you will find, in addition to the ubiquitous Wikipedia article, texts like this: “Outside of New York City, the bialy is little known. A bialy is similar to a bagel, in that it is a round, chewy roll.”
A bialy has chutzpah; a bagel is just a Jewish version of a biscuit. A bialy is never merely a creation of egg and flour and water – a plain bialy contains (thanks be to the Holy One!) onion and garlic. A bialy has a wonderful well in the middle. Toast a bialy, let a generous pat of butter melt in the center, tear and dip pieces of the bialy from around the edge until you are left with an oniony-garlicky-buttery center for the perfect final mouthful and you know something of the world to come.
A bialy helps stiffen your resolve, fill you with the warmth and joy that strengthens body and soul before heading out into a world where Things Must Be Done. A bialy is a perfect end to the day of Things Done, warm and cozy and nurturing.
A daily bialy is as good as a mother. It is comfort and love and support, all rolled into one.
I am convinced that Jews were making bialys back in Egypt. No wonder a week with matzah is so traumatic.
My husband, Ralf, enables my addiction, may the Holy One of Blessing bless him. He will drive all the way down to the Queen City of Charlotte at regular intervals with the sole purpose of buying me a crate of bialys.
The last time he went, the store owner tried to introduce him to a Charlotte Lubavitcher rabbi who was standing at the counter just behind him.
“His wife,” the storeowner explained to the rabbi, “teaches at UNCC in the Department of Religion.”
The rabbi nodded.
“She is the advisor of Hillel…”
“Was,” my husband put in.
(Ralf didn’t want to make me responsible for the current state of affairs with our Hillel group. When Jewish students throw parties with cheese and pepperoni the advisor may get a rash of angry parental emails.)
“She is… she is…” the store owner said.
Ralf knew where the friendly store owner was trying to go and knew why he was having trouble going there.
“Yes,” he said, “I am the husband of the rabbi of Concord.”
Then he smiled sweetly at my Orthodox colleague, grabbed the crate of bialys and headed out to the car.
He came home and packed almost the whole crate into the freezer. When I arrived some time later that day, I found that he had left a bag on the counter to defrost. He had even taken one out of the bag to make sure it was soft and ready for toasting upon my arrival.
“God bless you a million times,” I said.
“Would you like a bialy?” he answered.