In which the flood could have put out the fire


by Ilya Welfeld

Issue of April 30, 2010/ 16 Iyar, 5770
I needed an egg. It was 47 minutes before Shabbos and the kugel batter was ready to go in the oven... if only it had an egg.

Stepping out the front door, I had to think fast. Head next door to the B’s? I had recently borrowed a candle...or five, just moments before it was time to light. Wouldn’t want them to think last minute pre-Shabbos preparation was typical over here.

Down the block to the E’s or the R’s? Probably not enough time, with the houses in between and the pleasantries that would be required.

Across the street to the J’s? They had newborn twins, a one-year-old and a three-year-old. But it was only an egg, so I crossed the street barefoot and knocked on the door.

Cue the harps.

The house was eat-off-the-floor immaculate with nary a teething toy in sight. Children with newly washed hair smiled at me from the sofa, just behind the bouquet of red roses sitting on the sill. The aroma of warm, freshly baked challah wafted through the living room, greeting me at the front door.

And of course, they were more than happy to oblige. I rushed back into my house, egg in hand, cracked, mixed, poured and cranked up the oven.

But that was last year...

...and I’d be lying if I said the neighbor’s serene scene inspired anything but awe.

Here, we still specialize in Frantic Fridays. I sometimes feel like I greet the Shabbat Kallah like a flustered lover, smoothing my hair and clothing after dealing dinner plates like playing cards and joining my husband in a well-rehearsed kitchen dance involving mini hotdogs, hotplates and fridge-light tapings.

Our weeks are packed with carpools, homework, groceries, cooking, laundry, little league and employment. Husband and I both squeeze in more work hours than I care to recount here. I say the work gets squeezed in, but those who juggle professional careers with family and religion know that everything gets squeezed. It is our exhausting reality, cherished if not always graceful.

Which brings me to last week.

I pride myself on being an organized, master multi-tasker, so when Father-in-Law stopped by on Friday afternoon, we chatted and I smugly baked a chicken, washed sweet potatoes, prepped a cholent, answered emails, mixed cookie batter and put portabella mushrooms in the broiler. When Husband came home, he took over the proceedings (which included plugging in the cholent pot I had left disconnected) and I raced into the home office to put out a client fire.

Until the smell of smoke brought me back to the kitchen.

Black clouds rippled from the stovetop and flames burst from inside when we opened the oven door. We led the kids out the back door and called the fire department. Shoeless on the front lawn, the children worried about favorite toys and I wondering if we’d have food for Shabbos...

“Which reminds me,” I said to my husband as I took mental inventory of the various items in the oven, “I put some mushrooms in the broiler; they are probably ready by now.”

Moments later, when the fireman held charred tinfoil in his right glove and radioed the verdict to the dispatcher, “Portabellas in the broiler,” I felt like Gracie Allen. And, with the entire squad fewer than 10 feet away, I checked the time, proceeded to (casually as I could) pull five candles from a drawer, strike a match and light them one by one in candlesticks on the console. Three arm waves and a prayer later (two prayers actually, both the bracha and a request that I not be written up as a pyromaniac) and it was Shabbos. The nearly dozen firemen took their industrial fans, rolled their fireman eyes, swallowed their fireman smirks and departed.

The kids reveled in reliving the excitement and mocking my mushrooms during dinner. I noted that somehow most of the food was perfect - even enhanced slightly by the hint of smoke, when I realized that I had not given my daughter her bath.

“I know,” said Husband. “You left the water running.”

No recollection on my part.

“Upstairs? The bath?” he prodded. “When I went up to open windows and let out the smoke, I couldn’t help but notice the bathroom was flooded.”

Oh yes. The bath.

He applauded my trifecta (the cholent pot, the fire, the flood) and, G-d bless him, laughed with me. The kids joined in because kids love to see their parents laugh even if they don’t know exactly what is funny. And like every other week, the chaos melted into a cocoon.

Maybe I do need to multitask less. Maybe there is an easier way to manage it all.

Perhaps, if I am honest, there is a part of me that savors the sharp contrast, the wonder of going from total Tohu Va’vohu to a little bit of Gan Eden on earth each Friday night.

Or maybe, I just need more sleep.

“Good Night, Gracie,” I thought to myself as I got into bed. “Good night, Gracie, and good Shabbos too.”

Ilya Welfeld, stops to cherish the chaos, writing about balancing work, life and religion for The Jewish Star. Email her at