The aroma of baking bread wafted through the streets of Bethany as it did every mid-morning, more tantalizing today than in winter when the wind howled, swirling and dissipating the fragrance. Every day, rain or shine, hot or cold, it is my duty, and that of every mother of Israel, to build the fire and prepare the two meals of the day.
This morning I began with the rising of the sun, going out first to relieve myself in the sewer trench in the street. I waved to Joanna, who lives next door. She was stuffing grass stalks into a trough for Sunrise Greeter, their donkey that at the crack of dawn led all others in praising the Creator.
“God favors us with a beautiful morning. Are you ready to grind?” Joanna nodded her agreement, slapping the burro’s neck, making him wait until she finished dumping a small flask of oats onto the stalks.
Going to the storage bin in the wall of my home, I remove the wood stopper and fill a clay bowl with wheat. Tomorrow, she will take from her supply, and I will bring the cloth to catch the flour.
I place the lower grinding stone in the center of the cloth and Joanna places the stone turning-wheel on top. A wooden pivot-peg is inserted though the top hole into the pocket-hole in the stone below. Another wood peg is fitted into a pocket-hole in the outside edge of the top stone to serve as a handle.
Sitting on opposite sides of the cloth, we pour wheat kernels into the hole around the pivot-peg. Grasping the handle, we begin rotating the stone. Together it is a pleasant chore; doing it alone, not so much. The wheel grinds the kernels, pushing flour out onto the cloth. When we have enough for the day’s baking, we will make dough and start the fire.
We discuss all things important to mothers; a conversation that never ends. Today we reflected at length on the adequacy of the cooking fuel; was enough stockpiled for rainy days and winter, and where the children might go in search of combustibles. Every year, it seems, they travel farther to find it.
Searching with my hand in the flour vessel I find the sourdough and drop the yeasty lump onto the mixing board. The freshly mixed flour is dumped into the container and stirred before retrieving enough for today’s baking. After mixing flour, warm water and salt with the sourdough, I pinch off enough to leaven tomorrow’s bread and hide it beneath the flour in the storage pot. The mixed dough is set aside to rise.
The embers of yesterday’s fire are stirred from beneath the ash. Small pieces of dried flower stalks and grass are added and when the fire catches, camel dung and small pieces of bramble. A ceramic bowl with a large opening at the bottom and a smaller opening at the top is placed over the fire. I will pinch off pieces of dough, pat it flat and stick it on the inside of the flue to bake, or if it is too hot, on the outside of the chimney.
My family lives on bread, as does every family in Israel. From the planting of the grain to the harvest, to the breaking of bread, every aspect is filled with joy, and is sacred.
To cut bread with a knife would be tantamount to cutting life itself. It is not done, never, it must not be. To eat bread, it must be broken, or pinched off.
In Capernaum, when I was visiting my sister, I heard a man from Galilee speaking. His words live in my heart.
He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 NKJ)
The claim and promise Jesus stated are true. I know!
Come. Let us break bread together.
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