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–47– The Bagels in the Snowflake -­ Outside, there were lots. Block after block. Deserted. Some had been parking lots and were now home to abandoned wrecks, as if people had parked, shoved their car keys into a pocket, and wandered off. Then years had passed, years of entropy and rust, and after a while there was no longer any reason to park here because once you got out of your car there was no place to go. There were other lots with no cars. These were not parking lots. They were marked by heaps of rubble that had once been businesses or homes. Outside, there was also a burnt-­ out supermarket, its windows laid out in jagged jigsaw puzzles on the sidewalk before it. Outside , there were rows of brick boxes: public housing. Inside, there were bagels: poppy seed, sesame, garlic, salt, plain. No blueberry, no whole wheat, nothing with raisins. This was in the seventies, before the secularization of the bagel. There were onion-­ flecked bialy rolls, named in honor of the Polish town of Bialystok, once home to large numbers of Jews who had loved their town devotedly, according to the histories, until they were killed there, every last one, except those few who hid under the bodies in the mass graves, feigned death, and burrowed their way out after the executioners went home for dinner. There was pumpernickel , its musky fragrance and chocolaty color hinting richly at the molasses within. Caraway seeds riding atop loaves of rye –48– bread like docile passengers on a train. Challah speckled with poppy seeds, awaiting its dusting of Friday-­ evening prayer. Outside, all was gray. The sky. The concrete ground. Gray. Inside , all was golden and fragrant. The Snowflake Bakery was once at the heart of a Jewish neighborhood in my hometown of Syracuse, New York. Then the neighborhood’s residents, still nomadic (it takes more than a generation or two of settled life to forget millennia of wandering), migrated to the suburbs. For a time, the bakery remained, a small oasis of bustle and warmth anchoring concentric circles of urban desolation. The glass cases in the unadorned front room were heaped with bread and cake. The shelves lining the walls held stacks of folded cardboard , with slots and flaps designed for assembly into elegant white and blue boxes. Most fascinating for a child were the mysterious metal bulbs suspended from the ceiling over the counter. A worker would give a quick tug on the end of a piece of twine (also white and blue, to match the boxes) sticking out at the bottom of the bulb, foot after foot of string would be disgorged, and the worker would flip the box rapidly over and over, over and over, bundling the purchases deftly and securely. We went to the Snowflake often and left bearing shiny white bags and boxes with patterns of large, symmetrical navy-­ blue snowflakes on them. The bags ballooned with aromas. In addition to bread, the Snowflake had all kinds of sweets: rugelach, babke, and wedding cake, to name just a few. For years and years, a dusty, superannuated plastic bride and groom stood atop a sample wedding cake on a high shelf, turning slowly from white to gray (the cake as well as the couple) in a touching display of constancy. The nameless yellow cookies, oblong, with ridges, tipped with colored sprinkles, and filled with jam were, for me, the most important merchandise on offer there. Then and especially later, –49– after I had traveled a bit, I knew in my heart that these yellow cookies and all others like them belonged to me, all of them, wherever in the world they might be. I learned this because every time we went into the bakery, someone would lean across the counter, tell my mother that I was adorable, and reach down to hand me one of them in a twist of wax paper. (I never noticed if it was the same person each time; I was too small to get a good look over the counter, and adults did not interest me much.) The cookie was an offering laid at the altar of childhood. I received it graciously. I ate it fast. The bakery was my sole passageway to a world whose existence I barely suspected and to which I was, nonetheless, intimately linked; the world of my fathers. The world of my fathers, before belief and rituals extending back millennia were let go like balloons sailing...


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