Be grateful for whoever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. Rumi
Eating long, skinny pasta and Parmesan is a number one love for Margaret Pepper Weprin. She kicks her legs as she twirls assorted fork-fulls. I order the same during our girls’ day out so we can discuss the experience.
After a while she looks up at me mid-bite and with a tiny twinkle says: “Gal, how did God make himself?”
I stall the ultimate inquiry. After all who wants to alter the unfurling of The Divine to a child full of grace. “It’s a beloved mystery,” I say in a grandmotherly tone. Instantly though I’m out of sorts knowing that our Southern Christian culture does not rest easily in the mystery.
She throws back a messy mouthful and gives me a stare. She is unimpressed. Still I hold the line as I cherish the puzzle that overarches all paths to God. I know she will too unless some circumscribed story waylays her trusting essence.
To truly quantify the answer Pepper can know she is in good stead and more fortunate than many. She and her sisteens (her pet name, not mine) have the immediate blessing of branching off from two communities of faith.
Such is my faithfulness this year as I watched her Grandma, Ellen, talk us through an impromptu Seder. The table was spread with Mary Ann’s interpretation: Matzo Ball Soup, brisket, roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli.
As Ellen repeated the story of the Jewish people’s Exodus from Egypt, she cited the delicious meal served for thousands of years commemorating their journey from slavery to freedom.
Of interest were particulars like wandering in the desert with manna (or matzo) and the
Seder table portrayed in Da Vinci’s The Last Supper; thus, she explained – Easter and Passover fall together.
To wrap it all up, she issued a call that has been perpetuated over time by the family favorite known as Hide the Matzo! Ellen’s recounting of past childhood game winners ensued and then those present scattered to the winds to hunt the matzo for a cash prize. That’s when she leaned in to say, “Where’d you think hunting eggs came from?”
She is a grand dame like that, a lover of life’s amusing details and looking back I see that she was someone for whose presence I always prayed. Not in the sense of “please send me a new friend who can broaden my perch,” but as my embrace of The Divine grew, my curiosity for other cultures and religions expanded. In the bloom I saw that it was natural to dream of a life that encompasses more than my minuscule reality.
It took a while, but the merciful answer to prayer rang me up one day around noon in 2006. Ellen wanted to mark our good fortune, hers and mine. She called as soon as she was certain of Ben’s commitment to our daughter Mary Ann. When I heard her hearty laugh unknown to me before that anxious moment, the joy was profound.
Different parts of the country – different religions – different childhoods – different employments and still I found her phone call to be the most loving that I’ve experienced from another human. She would be driving to Columbia, Tennessee from Dayton, Ohio to join us in celebration.
Born in New Jersey, Ellen Casper Weprin was raised in a conservative Jewish home. She describes the Casper family as not observant, but her father Jay and mother Sonia Chernetz were keen on inhabiting Jewish practices and ethics. At thirteen she became a Bat Mitzvah which in those days was a relatively new tradition. Prior to that only boys became a Bar Mitzvah.
The Caspers enjoyed all Jewish holidays with the special foods and traditions that were a part of a wider generation of family practices. Throughout life she has been in close touch with sister Bess in Mobile, Alabama. Her brothers Lee and David have passed away. Ellen misses them deeply.
She graduated from Ohio State and settled with then husband Bart Weprin in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. After completing a master’s degree, she took a Dayton Public School position in the classroom for children on the autistic spectrum.
Eventually she transitioned to full time/at home after her first born, our son-in-law Ben, arrived. Their son Andrew and daughter Becky completed the sibling tribe and each profited from the wide berth she gave them to go in the directions that were genuine for them.
We compare notes. She shares a philosophy – allow children to be responsible for their decisions from a young age. “I never focused on grades or ‘wins,’ she said.
Once her children were in school, she focused on law school and subsequently balanced a demanding schedule. After graduation she began work in the prosecutor’s office and then shifted into her own practice of family law which gave her the flexibility of a more involved parent.
Ellen is a woman who turns heads by virtue of strength brought through years living with herself. She presents in classic black and white with a confident style ever aware of her roles as mother, grandmother and professional.
She scooped my daughter into her fold without a blink. The joy of shopping has produced many a mingle between the two.
One of my favorite things about her is that during a chat she never gives way to the energy of subtraction. She only uplifts the subject at hand and I agree with her sons when they say that their favorite trait is her sense of humor. More every day, her daughter says that she values Ellen’s authentic way of being in the world.
Once when our first grandchild Elodie began to put things together, she said, “Do you know Grandma, Gal?” “Yes, my darling,” I said. “And I love her dearly. She makes delicious Matzo Ball Soup. Did you know that?” Relaxing with the thought of us together, Elodie smiled showing more gum than teeth.
Ellen says that she holds tight to a credo for her 10 grandchildren: a knowledge that she trusts them to know right from wrong. I too am a fan of the never ending supply of love.
So if ever there was intercession for expansion of the personal: bingo. I favor the Yiddish prayer that goes something like this: “Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough, but not baked in the same oven.”
Our grandchildren will get the memo from Grandma and Gal by default as together we pass around the breadbasket of challah and country wheat. I rest in the someday where a world catches on.
Matzo Ball Soup (Ellen’s Version)
Happy to promote this recipe, my sanction comes by way of Pepper who though she eats pasta with Parmesan in the majority; she loves her Grandma’s Matzo Ball Soup.
2 chicken breasts (bone and skin, still attached)
2 medium onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
Matzo Ball Soup Mix (Croydon but other will be fine)
Put 1 box chicken broth, 1 cup water, chicken breasts, onions, carrots and celery into a pot and make sure the chicken is covered with liquid.
Bring to boil. Skim off top and then let simmer for hours or as long as possible
The box has two packets (one is Matzoh Ball mix and one is bouillon). Add the bouillon package to the soup. Add more water if needed.
The Matzoh Ball recipe is on the box. Follow directions and then put the prepared Matzo Balls in the fridge for 1 hours.
Boil Matzo Balls in a pot of boiling water and add to the soup.