who's in the kitchen

Jerry, son of Survivors, has his American birthday


A few years back I wrote about the first time that my husband, Jerry, had a real birthday party. He was turning seven and was invited to Lenny Schwartz’s birthday party. Lenny had one parent born in America; Jerry, and all his other friends, had Holocaust-survivor parents, so Lenny’s party was different than what Jerry was used to.

Jerry returned home so excited he could hardly contain himself. He told his mom of the ice cream cake, lots of snacks, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game and musical chairs. Of course he failed at musical chairs miserably, as he had never seen that game played before. When the music started and everybody started walking quickly around the chairs Jerry just followed everyone and didn’t realize he had to sit down when the music stopped. When they said, “Jerry, you are out,” Jerry replied, “What do you mean I’m out.” He had no clue how to play the game. His mom said, “You want a great birthday? I’m going to make you a great party. Invite four friends for next Sunday — this is going to be a party you will never forget.” And how right she was. 

Jerry invited his three best friends and Lenny (this would be a good time to impress him). 

Sunday couldn’t come soon enough — and then it couldn’t end fast enough.

Jerry’s dad picked him, his brother and three friends up from school. When they entered the apartment, Jerry turned white. There in the living room were all his aunts, uncles and cousins. Men in suits and ties, women in Shabbos finery complete with little mink stoles. Moishe Oysher, Chatzkilla Ritter, and the Barry Sisters were playing on the Victrola and the happy crowd was dancing to the beat. As if that wasn’t enough, the table was laden with all sorts of “kid friendly” food — stuffed cabbage, roast, chopped liver, shlishkes, gefilte fish, and Hungarian nut rugalach. Lenny asked, “Hey Jerry, where’s YOUR party?” Jerry responded “just wait, Lenny it’s gong to be great.”

After a while, Jerry’s dad realized he had to save the day, so he grabbed a ball and took the boys downstairs to the courtyard. So there they were, laughing, playing catch and having fun when the door opened and his cousin summoned them back upstairs at Jerry’s mom’s request. His dad pitied the kids, but he wasn’t ready to disobey a higher authority. “Sorry kids,” he said, “we have to go back to the party.”

Fast forward to when I met Jerry about 13 years ago and he told me about the infamous party. He went on to explain that he never had another party because he was scarred from that party. I thought he was kidding but he wasn’t.

This year, as Jerry’s birthday fell on a Friday and since we were going to our friends, Ilyce and Jerry Richter’s home, on Saturday night to hang out with a few other couples, I decided to buy a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game. Easier said than done. There was not one store that I called that had the game in stock. An hour before Shabbos I had my neighbor print out a donkey and a page of tails and I painstakingly cut out each one.

Come Saturday night I snuck the donkey game into my pocketbook. One by one everyone wished Jerry a happy birthday, and then I broke out the game. I announced, “Jerry, since it’s your birthday, we’re going to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.” To my surprise he didn’t seem that excited about it. He stood there as my friend tied a scarf around his eyes we spun him around and he walked towards the donkey pasted to the wall. Being that Jerry is very honest and never has a trick up his sleeve for anything, he didn’t feel for the paper donkey, he just stuck the tail on the first part of the wall he felt, which was about two feet above the correct spot. When he took the blindfold off, he laughed and then he reacted with excitement having finally gotten to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey for his birthday. After the game, came the ice cream cake that our friends the Finks brought. Jerry would have not been happier had there been a catered dinner for 500 at the Hilton. He finally had that party that he didn’t have when he was 7.

Turns out, most of our friends, at the gathering that that night, were children of Holocaust-survivor parents, who never had a conventional “American” birthday part either. In fact, some experienced their parent’s version of a “children’s” birthday party just like Jerry, and refused to ever have another one.

Later that night when we were home, I told Jerry, that I was surprised that he wasn’t more excited when I took out the donkey game. He said, “I couldn’t even conceive that you were actually going to meet my American birthday party expectations, which I had dreamed about and hoped for 55 years ago. Once my hopes were dashed back then, I abandoned all hope for ever having a happy fun birthday party.”

“You didn’t realize it was for your birthday?” I exclaimed. “Did you actually think we were going to have drinks, cheese and crackers, bagels and lox and randomly play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey?” I probably shouldn’t admit this, but he said yes.

Talking of ice cream cake this is a great recipe that combines ice cream and rich flourless chocolate cake.

Ice Cream Cake 


For the cake

1-1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (good quality) 

1 cup granulated sugar

5 large eggs

3/4 cup bittersweet baking cocoa powder

Ice cream layer

A quart and a half of your choice of ice cream, softened. 

Chocolate Ganache

16 ounces chocolate chips or chopped up chocolate

16 ounces heavy cream (non dairy liquid whip can be used as well)


Melt the butter in the microwave until very hot, foam will appear. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until mixture is melted and smooth.

Add the sugar and mix until all ingredients are combined.

Whisk in the eggs, then the cocoa powder a little at a time. Pour the batter into a 9 or 10 inch springform pan, sprayed with Pam or coated with butter, and bake until the cake starts to crack on top, about 50 min to an hour.

Remove from oven and let cool and set, at least 3 hours.

Cake can be made a day or two in advance.

Remove sides of the pan and leave the cake on the bottom part of the pan. Place the cake on a large piece of Saran wrap and place it back in the sides of the springform pan and close it. There should be enough Saran wrap to come up the sides of the pan about 1 inch higher than the pan. 

Melt the chocolate and heavy cream on stovetop or microwave being careful not to burn it.

Let cool until warm and poor a layer over the chocolate cake, but not letting it run down the sides. Place in refrigerator to cool till set. Set aside remaining ganache.

Place the softened ice cream on top of the chocolate layer. Cover with saran wrap and place in the freezer until totally frozen.

Once frozen, remove the cake from the freezer and heat up the remaining ganache, so that it’s warm, but it does not have to be very hot, just enough so that you can pour it. Slowly pour the remaining ganache or enough so that it covers the top of the cake and brush it onto the sides.

You can leave cake as is or you can sprinkle with any type of toppings that you like or apply cigar wafer cookies around the sides and tie a bow around it. 

Place the cake back in the freezer if it’s not going to be served immediately.