People talk to me about cholent.
I don’t know why, but they do.
At parties, at book festivals, at coffee shops.
They really shouldn’t.
“You should come over!” they say. “I’ll make cholent!”
It’s like running into Oliver Twist 40 years after he left the workhouse and inviting him over for a nice bowl of gruel. I hate cholent. I hate the sound of the word, I hate even typing it, and I’m going to have to shower as soon as I’m done writing this. It reminds me of everything I hate about my history. It’s a steaming hot bowl of childhood, and just for the record, I’m severely cholent-intolerant.
“C’mon, Oliver! Gruel! You remember gruel!”
It’s not cholent’s fault. What’s to hate, after all? A stew made of beans, meat, potatoes, and bones—it’s delicious. But the whole is more grating than the sum of its parts. Ostensibly, it was a way around the prohibition of cooking on Shabbos (the only thing rabbis love more than cholent is a good loophole), but my mother was unable to bring the bowl out to the table without reminding us that Jews were poor and miserable—“they were peasants!”—and so the poor and miserable Jews had nothing to eat but this poor and miserable peasant stew, no doubt while fleeing Somewhere to Somewhere Else, from which they would soon flee again. The smell alone is enough to make me depressed.
“My mother made it with chickpeas!” they tell me.
Really? Mine made it with guilt and bile.
I prefer the jelly doughnuts on Hanukkah. They’re white and bright and sweet and sugary; in hindsight, I’m surprised I wasn’t taught that the jelly represents the blood of my poor and miserable ancestors, the powdered sugar their tears. When I die and no doubt go to hell (you will, too, trust me; we all do), God will meet me at the gates with a steaming bowl of that loathsome too-Jew stew in His hands, an evil grin on His old bastard face.
“C’mon, Shalom! Cholent! You remember cholent!”
Shalom Auslander is the author of Foreskin’s Lament and the novel Hope: A Tragedy.