Oma, Momma, Bubby. No matter what you call her, and if you’re lucky enough to know one you’ll agree, Jewish grandmothers are something special.
My own version is a highly lovable Lenore Kirschenbaum shaped wisp, a prime player in many of my stories and a snowbird currently waiting out winter’s harshest months in a jam-packed condo on the outskirts of, where else, Boca Raton.
Oma & Bella is an intimate glimpse into the world of Regina and Bella, two octogenarian friends who live together in Berlin. A delightful documentary by Regina’s granddaughter (Oma, is German for Grandma), Alexa Karolinski, the women’s memories of the Holocaust are never distant as together they lovingly prepare the same fortifying meals they ate as children (and taught themselves to recreate later after each lost their family in the war, by taste alone), and kibbitz over questions of heritage, memory and identity. As the film follows them through their daily lives, a portrait emerges of two elegant women with a touching bond, a spirited sense of humor, vivid stories, a deep fondness for Eastern European cooking… and German soap operas. Wunderbar.
Watching Oma & Bella and subsequently pouring over the film-inspired cookbook, feels like home to me. Recreating these dishes is to make tangible memories of the people I love most in this world. Even just in reading the recipes’ Yiddish titles on each beautifully illustrated page (the talented stylings of Joana Avillez), I remember my childhood; high-holidays at my grandparents’ house, setting the table a thinly veiled excuse to be within reaching proximity of the hors d’oeuvres, to sneak bites of chopped liver and half-sour pickles before the other guests arrived. I mean, how many times have I heard Lenore kvelling over kneidlach?
I long ago lost count.
Through my tears, I fell head over heels for these strong, beautiful, Jewish grandmothers. OK, fine, so I bawled my eyes out and then I made their German Sugar Cookies. I laughed out loud with them at the beauty parlor then tapped off a text to my mom to say I was making their Cheese Blintzes for Hanukkah. I smiled ear to ear when their New Year’s party went off without a hitch and then, for lunch the next day, ate enough chicken noodle soup to just about plotz.
The movie ended and I called Lenore in Florida. She’s up ‘till 1am, you know.