Sometimes Objects are Much More Than They Seem

During the Boston part of my mother’s Shiva, my cousin Sid mentioned that he had a challah cover that my mother had embroidered for his family. He said that he had used that challah cover throughout his childhood and even had taken it from his mother’s house and had used it as an adult.

Sid talked about how much he loved the challah cover and how much he wanted me to have it.


A little while after Shiva, Sid's daughter, Emily brought me the challah cover.


This is the challah cover.


The design itself is entirely standard. One used to be able to buy a linen rectangle with this design printed in blue.


A few weeks ago I had Shabbat lunch  at my friend Anne’s.  Anne’s mother who was a few years older than my mother had embroidered exactly the same design. Anne’s mother did all of the embroidery in a soft grey. The letters were filled in with satin stitch  and Anne’s mother who was an accomplished seamstress lined her challah cover with a plain piece of linen.


My mother’s stitching looks a little spikey, partially because the cotton threads she had used are wearing away, and partially because as a kid doing embroidery her skills were, as a kind teacher might say, developing.


The kiddush cup that was at the center of the design has almost entirely worn away.

I haven’t quite figured out what to do with this challah cover. So it has been sitting folded up on my kitchen table along with the old copies of the Wall Street Journal.

This past Friday night, Emily came over for Shabbat Dinner. I put the tattered cloth on top of the challot, because Emily had gone to the effort of bringing this challah cover from her father in Boston. I wanted to honor both her efforts and her father’s touching act.

When I put the cloth over our challot I realized that this challah cover was basically a rag with holes in it. I exchanged it for another cloth.

Today, I have been thinking about this cloth. I need to share with you that my cousin Sid grew up with my mother as his very young aunt. My mother spent a  summer with Sid and his family when he and his brother Av were really little. My mother had thought she was spending the summer to help her sister Frieda take care of the children.

As I piece together family history I realize that my mother was parked at Frieda and Bill’s mostly to keep my mother  from being underfoot after my grandfather’s heart attack.

My mother was about a dozen years older than her nephews, somewhere between being a cool older sister and a cool young aunt. My cousin Sid and his brother Av shared memories of my mother taking her nephews on New York City adventures

Sometime after I was born and before I have memories there was a rift between my mother and her older sister.  I grew up with just a couple of memories of Aunt Frieda. I didn’t meet Sid until I was in my 30’s. I met his brother Av for the first time a couple of years ago.


I realized today, perhaps because I am sometimes a little slow, that for Sid, this raggedy challah cover was a symbol of the times before the rift. I believe with all of my heart that he sees this deeply flawed ragged and damaged piece of cloth complete, and whole and done by a skilled hand by someone who he loved and admired. I think that it reminded him when his aunt was part of his life.



If you had asked me yesterday what I need to do with this challah cover, I would have said that I ought to throw it away. I realized today, that I can’t.


  1. Your touching story transformed the challah cover into a work of art.

  2. And so explains so much that we keep and can not part with.
    When I was at my parents, my sisters and I discovered that the belongings of our sister Debbie, who died in 2008 are basically untouched in the trailer/outbuilding where she and her husband had been living. I say basically untouched...they call it the porcupine trailer because the porcupine lives there now and who knows what other animals.

    I went into the back room which was my brother's cave. (Cave, because there are no windows and even with a torch/flashlight I couldn't find the light switch because the walls are covered with maps and clippings of articles important to him.) I was sad because I know this room will look the same in 5 or so year's time when I manage to get over there again.

    So, to connect with your story, because these things were important to my sister and to my brother, I don't think my mother will ever manage to do anything about them. I had thought to look if there was anything I should rescue for preservation's sake. But it was still too soon, and even though my brother's Air Force uniform is still hanging there in the open from more than 30 years ago, what could I do with an American Air Force uniform? Perhaps ask my sister to rescue it at least when she goes there next to save for her own children?

    Hmmm. I guess you touched something for me with this. Basically, I understand. It doesn't make anything easier for the ones who follow who don't know the stories though.

  3. Oh Sandy! So, so sad.I desperately hope that my apartment does not turn into a crazy porcupine cave. I hope on my end that taking photos of and writing about objects can serve both to help my kids understand why they are important...but also helps me to figure out which things matter and which things not so much. I have spent a good portion of today trying to figure out what to do with two of my parents' Persian carpets. They had been expensive when new but are very out of fashion at the moment. They had at one point great monetary value. The rugs were important to my parents as a symbol of their having achieved a level of taste and refinement We are ready to let them go...but it has been not so easy to find a home for them. I read your comment as a cautionary tale...and will work on getting rid of the stuff that really does not matter.

  4. Hi again, I hope the extra dealing with things is not too much stress for you.
    I think I will have to suggest that my sisters and I meet up there at some point with the main aim to sort this stuff before it all becomes fodder for animal nests.
    But it does make me look at my own things differently. Still! It is not easy.


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