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Sunday, September 19, 2004

Alone with the dishes

When we moved here almost 15 months ago, my wife imported a large, industrial-sized dishwasher…


I’m not complaining. In fact one gets to do a fair amount of thinking late at night… alone with the dishes.

Zahava does her fair share of the dishes, but for the big jobs… particularly after dinner parties, large Shabbat/holiday meals, etc… I’m the guy left surveying the wreckage and not knowing exactly where to begin.

So it is (for me) with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

For me, these holidays are like the aftermath of an enormous, wild dinner party… one where invitations were extended to 12 or 15 more than the house could comfortably accommodate…. the kind of rollicking soirée that is talked about and savored for months.

But such a party comes with a price to pay.

Rosh Hashanah (for me) is roughly analogous to standing [aghast] in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room surveying the damage.

What was I thinking?

Every horizontal surface is stacked high with glasses and dishes.

Half-empty bottles of merlot, syrah and chardonnay stand abandoned beside empty bottles of bourbon and scotch.

The sinks overflow with greasy dishes, and the dessert service (dishes, tea cups and saucers) seem evenly distributed between the dinning room table and the various kitchen counters.

Linen napkins sit balled on (and under) chairs, and glasses of every description seem to wink at me from wherever the wandering conversationalists deserted them.

On Rosh Hashanah I stand slumped in that imaginary doorway trying to make the insurmountable seem… well, surmountable. Trying to place the soiled contents of my slovenly year into some kind of framework where things can be addressed in some orderly fashion.

Anyone who has been left to clean up after a big dinner party understands the daunting nature of the task. At first glance it seems the house will never be the same.

But then cooler heads prevail and I pick up that first wine glass (with the half-moon of lipstick on the rim) and place it in such a way as to demonstrate to the long departed guests and sleeping wife that this spot on the sideboard is where the crystal will be gathered.

And so Rosh Hashanah begins (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.

Several circuits of the house bring more wine glasses, whiskey glasses, and water glasses than I ever knew we owned, to join the first.

Then, emptying one of the sinks of its precariously balanced contents, I draw a basin of steaming hot soapy water. As the sink fills I designate other places for dishes and cups and saucers… each to each… all according to size. Warming to the familiar task, I take comfort in the muffled sound of the water under its foamy cloak… almost like a prayer.

And so Rosh Hashanah continues (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.

Next the sterling flatware and serving pieces are gathered into a soup pot full of soapy water, and the linen napkins are bundled with the tablecloth into the hamper in the laundry room.

With the leftovers put safely into the refrigerator and the trash bundled to the bin, the place is starting to look more sane… not one iota cleaner, yet… but the illusion of order has begun to emerge.

Now pots and pans of every shape and size are filled with soapy water and placed on the stove to soak. Measuring cups and carving knives are placed beside legions of serving platters. Spices are returned to their places and canisters of flour and sugar are placed back on their shelves… each gestures creating a bit of space… and again, the comforting suggestion of emerging order.

And so Rosh Hashanah ends (for me)… nothing having been washed just yet… but the insurmountable seems… surmountable.

I stand again in the spiritual doorway between the kitchen and dining room… balanced on the threshold between what I have created during the year…and what I have consumed. I haven’t yet washed a thing, although some of the bigger problems have been identified and have been placed in to soak. The glasses all sit with their fellows and the dishes are stacked according to size. Everything still bears the smudges and smears of too much fun… too much indulgence…

But now as I look around, the task seems manageable… surmountable.

As I stand listening to the soft shhhhhhhhhh of the soap bubbles as they settle in the sink, I am ready for Yom Kippur. I know what has to be washed… and I know (hope) that after the necessary amount of work I will find myself at the end of Yom Kippur’s fast with the dish towel in my hands, surveying the sparkling china… the lovingly polished sterling… the immaculate crystal… each in its place, and the house looking (and feeling) ready for a fresh beginning.

Posted by David Bogner on September 19, 2004 | Permalink


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Beautifully written. I read picturing my old kitchen in Rehavia.

Shanah tovah tikateivu v'techamteinu l'tovah, briyut v'ahavah

Posted by: 1rabbi | Sep 19, 2004 4:01:35 AM

i hate washing dishes, man. thank god we have a real dishwasher :)

Posted by: no milk | Sep 19, 2004 5:23:05 PM

This was fantastic, David.
I personally like having lots of dishes.
It always means wonderful things have been happening.


Posted by: Queenie | Sep 19, 2004 6:14:13 PM

I get that same sinking feeling after large dinner parties, too. But, as you say, totally worth it. (Although that does not stop me from a gentle but continuous campaign for one of those new-fangled dish washing machines, eh?)

Thank you for both making me laugh and for supporting the Jog for the Jugs. Both laughter and kindness much 'preciated.

Posted by: Marn, eh | Sep 19, 2004 8:17:58 PM

I hope I'm not reading *too* much analogy into this... I think you'll be just fine on Yom Kippur.

Posted by: Tanya | Sep 19, 2004 8:46:54 PM


Thank you for your beautiful thoughts, and for making the effort to put them down in writing. I am quite sure that everything will be spic and span, everything tidied away in its proper place, come Friday evening.

Posted by: Mal | Sep 19, 2004 10:48:22 PM

being one of the only families in southern CT with NO dishwasher - i too take much satisfaction in 'finding' the kitchen underneath the holidays. somehow, when you are done with such a job - the house looks cleaner and bigger than before.

Posted by: Lisa | Sep 20, 2004 6:21:17 PM

Lovely, David, simply lovely.

Of course, you're reminding me that I have dishes I've yet to wash, but I'll forgive you for that.

A week late, I know, but Happy Rosh Hashanah!

Posted by: Carol | Sep 23, 2004 11:23:25 PM

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