The Real Balabustas Of Great Neck


On Passover, do you prepare matzah balls from scratch with plenty of chicken fat (hand shaped with lumps and bumps)? Do you make gefilte fish from pike, white fish and carp (ground by hand in your grandma’s hand-cranked grinding machine)? Does your horseradish (grated from a horseradish root) offer the sinuses of your guests instant relief (which causes their eyes and noses to tear and drip onto a new outfit that was saved for this occasion)? Are you guaranteeing your guests indigestion (brought on from eating too much of your homemade chopped liver, which is held together with lots of schmaltz (chicken fat), onions and chopped eggs)? Do you only serve matzah made by rabbis in a glatt kosher bakery (which is very thin with uneven edges)? Is the chicken soup filled with vegetables (with not a globule of fat floating on the surface)?

If you answered yes to the questions above, you are probably from another generation, a real balabusta—a great homemaker. Some younger mavens of perfection might have also answered yes, but they are rare.

Seated at your Passover table on a throne-like chair raised with pillows is the elder Seder macher (the expert who leads the service). He doesn’t miss a word of the Haggadah (the book of readings for the service). His body lists to the left as he speaks in a sonorous voice. He is tired—the service is long.

The afikomen (a piece broken from the middle of the three matzoth during the Seder that is set aside to be eaten at the end of the meal) is placed between a folded napkin. It is hidden in an obscure place; the children will search for it later. The winner of this frenzied hunt is rewarded with gelt (money). The exhausting search makes a strong statement that life is not easy: Let the kids work for the reward. Then, the afikomen is returned to the table so the seder can conclude.

The guests can not get up from the table after all is said and done; they are captive in a maze of mismatched tables and chairs, pushed together to accommodate every member of the family from far and wide. When the Seder is over and the guests are extricated, there is a checkpoint at the door. If trousers are not unbuttoned at the top and elastic-waist pants are not pulled to the point of bursting, you can not leave. If the driver’s belly will be pushing against the steering wheel, the exit is validated. One more macaroon or grape will get you a passport to exit the front door. 

Another Passover is here and gone. Sadly, the balabustas may not be here next year—they might move to Florida. Their successors will undoubtedly cheat with boxed matzah and store-bought matzah ball mix. There won’t be schmaltz in anything, since many are on diets and declare that chicken fat is unhealthy. Jarred gefilte fish doesn’t compare to homemade, but it will have to do. Sweet kosher wine will be replaced with the latest wine club selection. The new-wave cooks need not face the disapproval of the balabusta brigade, who are doing their own thing, wherever they are.

The only fly in the ointment is dessert—flourless cakes and spongecake made with ersatz (imitation) ingredients and macaroons hardened from sitting out for too long. But the guests are not upset; they’re stuffed and can’t move. The kids are the only ones disappointed—nuts and dried fruits don’t do it for them—until they spot the chocolate-covered macaroons.

We will miss the old guard, but not the bloating and belching.

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