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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Cooking or Baking (01/04/07)

TITLE: Memories of Challah
By Sandra Petersen
01/08/07


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Moshe Peters shivered as he hobbled down Wood Street toward Christ Church. A chill lingered in the early morning air and nipped at the bare toes which protruded from the ends of his boots. He paused for a moment to adjust the crutch under his arm and gather his ragged coat about him.

A subdued milky sun floated in the lifting fog. Moshe limped along at a pace equal to that of any two-legged man.

The morning was melting away as fast as the fog. In this brick and mortar slum that was the East End of London, time was measured by hunger pangs and the search for a doss-house in which to rest. Each day contained only so many hours of fruitful begging. A man had to secure enough shillings and pence for his daily bread and night’s lodging

Ahead of him a door opened and a customer, bundle under his arm, called back to the shopkeeper. “A good day to you, Simon. May the Almighty Himself bless your ovens.”

Moshe slowed his pace as he neared the door of Simon Linski, the baker. If God smiled upon him, another customer would enter or leave the shop. Then Moshe could breathe in an ocean of fresh-baked fragrance to sustain him throughout the day.

Each day, for that reason, Moshe timed his steps so that he would pass the bakery soon after the morning’s baking was ready for purchase. This morning, though, he saw something that caused him to stop and stare in the store window. Adorning the display case was a challah braid as thick as a leg of mutton.

It must be almost time for the Shabbat. How long has it been since I had a Shabbat meal?

Moshe leaned his forehead against the window memorizing the golden glow of the braid and steaming the glass with his breath.

“You there! Leave yer beggin’ for another establishment!” The stout baker, armed with a rolling pin, threw open the door. He aimed a blow at the vagrant’s head.

Moshe inhaled the aroma of the fresh bread that flowed from the bakery before escaping down the street as quickly as he could.

A right turn on Church Street brought him out to the warehouses that lined Commercial Street. A porter, lugging a large basket of vegetables to the nearby Spitalfields Market, knocked Moshe to the ground.

“Watch where yer goin’!” the sweating workman puffed before disappearing into the market crowd.

Moshe brushed himself off and slowly, using his crutch, rose to his feet.

“A ha’penny for the cripple?” Moshe held his greasy hat out to a man in a black well-tailored coat.

The man sneered and tossed a farthing at Moshe’s feet before continuing on his way toward the marketplace.

“Thank you, sir.” Moshe called to the man’s retreating back and bent to collect the coin.

“You know,” a voice said, “There is a place not far from here where you can have a cup of soup and a crust of bread.”

He glanced at the well-dressed stranger. This man did not react to Moshe’s ragged appearance as others had most of his life.

“The workhouse?” Moshe snorted. “I’d sooner starve to death.”

“No, I don’t mean the workhouse. General Booth’s soldiers have a soup kitchen not far from here. It’s not much but you’ll have a hot meal.”

“General Booth, y’ say? What regiment?”

The corners of the stranger’s mouth flickered upward in a small smile. “Haven’t you ever heard of the Salvation Army?”

Moshe frowned. He thought about his dear mum’s reproofs years ago when he played with some Christian boys one street over from the lodging house. I don’t want you with those boys. Their parents go to a building where every week they eat human flesh and drink the poor unfortunate’s blood. Lest you want to be their next sacrifice, stay away.

“Christian?” he asked. The stranger nodded and took him by the arm, intent upon leading him, but Moshe pulled away.

“If you won’t go with me, can I at least help you in some way?”

Moshe thought of the challah braid in Simon Linski’s window. A braid like that with tea or ricewater would last for many days. He licked his lips thinking about it and marveled at his good fortune.

“There is one thing you could do, if ye were willing,” he murmured.

*****************************
Shabbat-the Jewish word for Sabbath measured from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday
Challah-a special braided yeast bread that is often part of the Shabbat meal
Farthing-the smallest coin in usage in Victorian England
Ricewater-a drink made by boiling rice, straining it, and adding a little sweetener to the liquid.

The superstition Moshe remembers from his mother is one I have heard in the past.


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This article has been read 1266 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Crista Darr01/11/07
This is an excellent piece of writing! Your scene and characters are realistic. I enjoyed the read. Great work.
Sara Harricharan 01/12/07
This was a very creative and unique story. Moshe was a great character, I like how you showed his day and the different people he would encounter. The Challah bread in the bakery was a great point for him to remember so much. I liked the ending, though sort of sad, but good that someone had taken the time to pay him some attention and not treat him as if he were less than a human being. I think you captured the emotions well :)
Joanne Sher 01/15/07
I think I may know who wrote this - the descriptions are crisp and vivid, and so atmospheric. I was definitely right there. Masterful.
janet rubin01/15/07
I enjoyed this very much. Could smell the bread, hear the cruel insults hurled at the beggar. Wonderful writing.
Pat Guy 01/15/07
I, too, remember this superstition.

Very well written! You took me some place else to experience, although sad.

Great story.
Jan Ackerson 01/16/07
One of my favorites of yours, so tender and bittersweet. Love it.
Edy T Johnson 01/17/07
What struck me were your words: "A man had to secure enough shillings and pence for his daily bread and night’s lodging...." No concern to "plan for retirement," when one has nothing to plan with. One's "daily bread" takes on new significance as seen here through the eyes of the old man. Thank you for the reminder that some have it so much harder than I.
Jen Davis01/17/07
A sad but realistic story that was very nicely written. The numerous details brought this piece to life. One vivid description I especially enjoyed was: “…steaming the glass with his breath.” Very well done.
dub W01/17/07
I rarely comment on the Master's level, but this one deserves a note. This one is special, so realistic, and such a powerful element. I really liked the historical statements. Top notch.
Tabiatha Tallent01/17/07
I was so into the story that I could hear the English tilt to his words. Beautiful writing!
Ruth Neilson01/17/07
I was there with your main character. That transported me to that time, that place, and I felt his pain. I have heard that story about Christians eating flesh and drinking blood. That's actually a charge that the Roman government did on the early church. (just a touch of extra history for you) Great job though.
Betty Castleberry01/17/07
This is a creative piece. I could literally smell the bread. Well written, and well done all around.
Donna Emery01/17/07
This was heartwarming and lovely. I wanted to buy the man a whole meal, let alone a challah. I really liked this; thanks for sharing it.