Lucky latkes

Things are definitely different here in Washington state. If you follow the news, you will consistently read about Seattle as being one of the strongest and fastest-growing Jewish communities in the country. I have little reason to doubt this fact. Except that unless I’m at our wonderful new temple in North Seattle, I could swing dozens of dead cats and never hit a single member of our tribe.

We currently live about 20 minutes north of the city in a suburb at the tip of Lake Washington known as Kenmore. My kids have no Jewish friends at school, I haven’t seen a single home in our neighborhood with a mezuzah on the doorpost and I can’t find a decent challah within 20 miles of my front door.

I’m not exactly complaining. But it’s awfully weird for this North Shore Chicago girl, who spent the last two decades in Los Angeles and Scottsdale surrounded by plenty of Jewish brethren, to be living among all of these lovely people, most of whom have never even met a Jew. My oldest son, Levi, who is deeply entrenched in Judaism, Torah and spirituality, has mentioned to me several times that he feels kind of weird telling kids at school about his Judaism, because he’s always met with strange looks and perplexed stares whenever he mentions his religious heritage.

Please understand that we have in no way met with unkindness or religious intolerance in any way. Our neighbors are civil and have spoken to us on at least one or two occasions. But they’re not busting down our door with plates of great-Aunt Sofie’s mandel bread or a sample of Grandma Sarah’s famous rugelach.

That said, Levi loves his new high school. In part, this is due to the outstanding culinary arts program in which he managed to earn a spot as the only sophomore ever admitted. His culinary arts teacher is an amazing chef, teacher and yes, “Iron Chef America” winner. We’ve even talked about asking her and the students to cater my younger son Eli’s upcoming oneg Shabbat bar mitzvah luncheon at the temple this March.

But the other day, Levi came home in a state of utter delight and could barely contain his excitement long enough to tell us why he was so elated. He explained that there was a new class competition in culinary. Each student would get to choose one kitchen appliance for the upcoming challenge and would have to prepare a specified dish with that appliance. Levi immediately began gunning for the food processor. But after picking numbers from a chef hat, he ended up being the last student to choose his appliance. “I knew there was no way I was going to get the food processor,” he told us sadly.

The other appliances included a blender, a KitchenAide mixer, a waffle iron, a deli slicer and several other typical kitchen helpers. “But somehow, no one picked the food processor,” said Levi. “I was absolutely last and I got it! Can you believe that?”

“No one picked the food processor?” I asked incredulously. “That’s really bizarre. That doesn’t make any sense. I would’ve thought the food processor would’ve been the first to be snatched up.”

“I know,” he said, a huge smile plastered across his face. “I never knew I was this lucky. And guess what else? You will never believe what recipe I got with it.”

“What?” my husband, Mark, asked with intense curiosity, to which Levi cheerfully replied, “Dad, it’s our favorite thing to make in the food processor! You’ll never believe it. Guess! You have to guess.”

“Our favorite thing to make in the food processor?” repeated Mark. “Um…potato pancakes?”

“Not just potato pancakes,” chirped Levi, “but latkes! Actual latkes! That’s what the recipe said. Isn’t that amazing?”

Now comes the moment where I regret lacking any internal editing programs to stop my mouth from speaking exactly what my brain thinks up. “Well, obviously you got the food processor because no one else even knew what a latke was.”

Both Levi and Mark looked at me in horror. “Mom, that’s ridiculous,” said Levi. “Who doesn’t know what a latke is?” Mark was smiling a knowing smile: “Yeah, hon, who doesn’t know what a latke is?”

“Um…you’re right, Leves,” I stammered. “Forget I said that. You just got…lucky, incredibly lucky!”

Debra Rich Gettleman is a mother, blogger, actor and playwright. For more of her work, visit

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