This year, for our Passover Seder, I bravely offered to make the brisket. If you are at all familiar with a Passover Seder, then you know that the brisket is the shining star of the meal. Happy to pass the torch to the next generation, my beleaguered mother cooked the (mock) chicken soup, matzo balls, farfalle and mushrooms, lemon chicken, roasted potatoes, steamed veggies, all the fixings for the Seder plate, and several desserts. I could handle the brisket, right?
Well, yes, except I had to be creative. Our Seder was on Wednesday night, and I had to work on Wednesday. That meant unconventionally braising my brisket in the slow cooker. No probs. Next plan, getting the brisket. No problem their, either, I’ll just swing by the Jewish butcher on my way home from work Tuesday, and get my meat to go.
So, Tuesday, after work, I head over to Nortown and go straight to the huge pile of briskets sitting in their little pink paper-lined row. ‘Can I help you?’ asks the lady behind the counter. ‘Yes,’ I begin, ‘I need a four-pound brisket.’ She picks up a huge slab and puts it on the scale.
‘This is seven pounds. Okay?’
‘No, I just want four pounds.’ The lady picks up a slightly smaller brisket.
‘Six pounds.’ She says.
‘Great, but I only want four pounds.’ I wonder if I am being difficult.
‘I can’t cut it.’ She says decisively. Excuse me? I’m pretty sure there are knives, big ones, around. She can cut it. I try to reason with the woman behind the counter – there are many, many briskets there, can she please find an eight-pound brisket and cut it in half? No. Can she ask someone else? No. Is there anything in the back that she can cut four pounds off of? No. Can she JUST PLEASE give me a FOUR POUND brisket? No.
I tell the woman behind the counter that there will only be 8 people at our Seder, including two babies and a vegetarian. Four out of the eight will be heading out of town to celebrate that other glutinous festivity, Easter, the very next day, and there will be absolutely no need for so much leftovers. I try to tell her this.
What I don’t tell her, is that brisket is $6.99/lb, and my husband does not have a job. What I don’t tell her is that I cannot possibly afford to buy almost $50 worth of meat for one bloody meal. What I don’t tell her is that, when I offered to make the brisket, I planned on a four-pound, FOUR-POUIND brisket, and that it was very humiliating to stand in the butcher, close to tears, because I promised my mother I would make the brisket, and now, because of some crazy policy, this woman behind the counter at Nortown would not cut a piece of meat in half for me.
A kindly older woman, having witnessed this scene, turns to me. ‘How much do you need, bubileh?’ She asks. ‘Four pounds.’ I answer, feeling the redness rise in my cheeks. ‘I’ll split it with you.’ She says. I look at her. ‘Do you need a brisket?’ I ask. ‘No, bubileh,’ she answers kindly. I touch her arm. ‘It’s ok.’ I say, ‘I’ll think of something else.’ And I leave the store.
I cry all the way home, bitter tears, suitable for the occasion. I cry because my husband does not have a job and I cannot afford to pay for a piece of meat, and I cry because I wonder what else I will soon not be able to pay for, and I cry because this holiday, this religion, is supposed to be about kindness and generosity and understanding, and because even though I was not shown any of that by the woman behind the counter, the woman beside me had it in spades.
I made meatballs for the Seder, and they were a hit. My brother couldn’t get enough of them, and there were just enough leftovers for him to eat them for lunch the next day.
I will probably offer to make the brisket again next year, and I’m sure that my husband will be happily ensconced in a new, satisfying job, and I won’t have to face humiliation over a cut of meat. Bitter tears are supposed to be shed at Passover, but I’m not sure this is what Moses had in mind.