The Feast of Memory: An Exceptional LABA Tradition

The Feast of Memory is an ancient LABA tradition, where everybody is asked to share a food, either tasty or nasty, connected with a personal memory or story.  At the end of the evening, a collective memory emerges, evoking a collective history. Having overcome a mighty hangover, here LABA alum Gordon Haber recalls this year’s feast. 

“This is the real seder,” LABA resident scholar Ruby Namdar said. He had a generous glass of bourbon before him, and he made sure that everyone who wanted had one too. We had gathered in a spacious East Village loft — sixteen LABA fellows, alumni and faculty had come together to share stories and memories inspired by one of the more intense aspects of human existence: food. The brief was to appear with a dish and tell the story of the memory associated with it.

Thus over the next two hours a portion of the LABA community shared some of their deepest and most shameful fears and family secrets. The stories were obviously deeply personal, the overall taste bittersweet. We talked about war, illness, longing, parenthood, death and poverty — all the things you usually discuss at dinner with Jews. But we talked about redemption and overcoming the harsher aspects of our own natures as well. It was a surprisingly moving and cathartic experience; you can see videos here.

Ruby insisted upon no particular order to the dishes: “This is not the bourgeois dinner party of salad first, then the entrée, et cetera.” We spoke when we felt like it, when we were ready. Nevertheless for the sake of clarity — and because seder means “order” — we’ve arranged the menu:

Soups and Starters:
Tal Gur’s Tiny Olive Pieces on Burnt Sticks
Gordon Haber’s War and Borscht and Peace

Jacob Siegel’s Katz’s Pastrami, or, Send a Salami to Your Boy in Afghanistan
Tal Beery’s Crazy Safta’s Surprisingly Good Turkey Meatballs with Spaghetti
Ronit Muszkatblit’s Short Sharp Shock Shwarma
Brandon Woolf’s Aspirational Peking Duck

Jess Honovich’s I Want-to-Hate-Her-But-She’s-Nice Rum Punch
Liel Leibovich’s Slivovitz of Fire

Any Handelsman’s Bread, Butter and Bitterness

JAR’s Ambivalent Family History Oatmeal Cookies
Ruby Namdar’s Baclava of Pointless Self-Denial
Yael Sloma’s Plum Cobbler and the 2006 Lebanon War
Laura Beatrix Newmark’s Ruminative Rice Pudding
Yehuda Hyman’s Red Velvet Cake of Longing and Shame
Zohar Tirosh-Polk’s Krembo, Harbinger of Israeli Winter

One final note: Hanan Elstein refrained from bringing food, preferring instead to make a cheerful point about the difficulty of getting nourishment during the Holocaust. Hanan did, however, happily discuss his mother’s monkey brain recipe.

Next year in the East Village!

©2018 Itai Zwecker