Thursday, March 9, 2017

We're still here? Great, let's eat.

Marc Becker

      Purim begins March 11 at sundown. A joyous holiday, in case you aren't familiar, a rare break from fasting and mourning and general fretting about life. Purim celebrates the Jews' escape from doom — in Persia, officially, at the hands of the evil Haman, adviser to King Ahasuerus, but also a general thumb-to-nose-and-wiggle-fingers "We're here and you're not" at adversaries from Pharaoh to Hitler to, well, Donald Trump.  We've victims, sure, often, periodically, but also survivors. The faith is a direct living link from now to ancient Babylon, which is incredible, or would be, if anyone besides ourselves valued that kind of thing.
     Purim is, alas, extra timely this year, as we have a president constantly giving winks and dog whistles to the anti-Semitic, white nationalist fringe of the Republican Party. Emboldened, the haters are crawling out of their basements and troll holes to kick over headstones in Jewish cemeteries and phone bomb threats into Jewish day care centers, and other acts of alt-right bravery. How far will it go? As far as they can without consequences. Bullies, remember, are also cowards.
     You don't have to squint too hard to see Trump as a modern day Ahasuerus, with his own twin Hamans in the form of Stephens Bannon and Miller. Among the most pitiful remarks I heard from Jews mulling over this turn of events was the hope that Trump's daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, will "be our Esther" -- the hero of the Purim story, Ahasuerus' wife, who intercedes on behalf of the Jews and saves them.  
     Is that your escape plan? Purim? Purim is just a story. It never really happened. If  the fate of American Jews is in the hands of Ivanka Trump we are truly screwed.
     But we've strayed from the point of this: hamantaschen, the delightful tri-cornered pastries that Jews eat on Purim because, well, we can. They come in cookie-based and yeasty cake-based forms, and when I brought some of the hard cookie-type from Mariano's last week, my wife dispatched me to Leonard's Bakery for the soft puffy cake version, which she prefers.
    A word about Leonard's. I have to be sent to Leonard's. I never go to Leonard's on my own volition, because if I allowed myself to entertain the thought, "I think I'll go to Leonard's today" then I would go every day and weigh 400 pounds. So I can only go a) when requested by someone else or b) to pick up a bobkha cake to wow a dinner guest or host.
      Rolls. Breads. Cookies. Cakes. Goodies from Leonard's illustrated my wildly popular "Steinberg bakery" post. It's heaven. 
     While there, picking up yeast hamantaschens for my wife and, heck, a few cookie types for me, I chatted with Marc Becker, the owner.
     "Have you tried the chocolate?" he said. I admitted I had not, being a traditional type, and limited myself to apricot, poppy seed and raspberry. He handing me a warm cookie-type chocolate hamantaschen and I bit into it on the spot. Rapture.
         I expressed admiration, as I do, for the bakery's graphics, specifically for the bottom of the box, which has the word "Ouch!" and their trademark baker, not beaming as on the top of the box, but his mouth an "O" of distress. It's a small touch recommended, Marc said, by his friend Michael Krasny.  Leonard's celebrates its 30th anniversary this August, and while the excellent quality is what brings you there, I have to admit I like the extra little touches, like the message on the bottom of the box. 
     Opening tucked in a remote corner of a strip mall on Dundee Road, just east of Pfingston, seemed an iffy proposition back then. Marc wondered, "Who's going to come to see me in this corner?"
    Obviously people who want really, really good rugellah. And cookies. And coffee cake. And hamantaschen. People complain that the suburbs lack authenticity, and for the most part they're right. But Leonard's is the real Megillah, as my people say.


  1. Oh, happy memories of the U of C's annual latke-hamantaschen debate...

  2. Just noticed that the "Ouch!" is on the bottom outside. I thought it was inside, so that you didn't see it until you'd exhausted your supply of goodies.


  3. You make Lenoard's sound so wonderful, now my wife and I will have to check it out. I *love* rugellah, and thanks to you, I now know how to spell it. :)


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