I Want Hamantaschen to Be Like When I Was a Kid
I’m in Machane Yehuda – the big shuk or market in Jerusalem – just like I am every week. The “oznei Haman” have arrived. In Israel, hamantaschen are called “Haman’s ears” and with a bit of imagination, I can almost make sense of that. Every year, I wander from bakery to bakery during the weeks preceding Purim, and I end up carbohydratedly disappointed. My search for the hamantaschen of my youth are nowhere to be found.
The bakeries in Jerusalem, and especially in the shuk, make amazing hamantaschen. You want hamantaschen filled with halvah? We have that. Chocolate dough hamantaschen filled with chocolate? Yeah, we have that too. How about date filling? Poppy seed? Yup, they’re all here. But like Proust taking a bite of a madeleine, I want that hamantaschen that takes me back. Way back. I’m thinking I want to travel back about 50 years.
When I was a child growing up on the South Shore of Long Island, all the way out in Suffolk County (Yenevelt (a faraway place), as my grandfather called it) our community was a tight knit enclave of Jewish migrants from Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, all seeking a suburban life far from “the city.” My parents were deeply involved in the synagogue: my mother was Sisterhood president and my dad taught the confirmation class and was the youth group director of Temple Sinai of Bay Shore. As youth group director, the annual Purim carnival was his and the teenagers’ responsibility. Games were devised, booths were constructed, prizes were purchased, food was ordered.
To play games or obtain food, tickets had to be purchased. “Five dollars’ worth is all you get,” my mother would tell us. But I was not going to waste my precious tickets on mundane activities like “Shave-the-Balloon” or a terrifying Senior Youth Group “Fun House” that would culminate in me putting my hand in a bucket of pitted olives and being told they were eyeballs. I spent my money on the hamantaschen.
Fresh from Stanley’s Bakery (which is still on Main Street), were platters of hamantaschen that were the real deal. No halvah. No chocolate. And they were huge. The filling – cherry, prune, apricot – oozed out from the seams. And the dough? The dough was a golden yeast dough and not this crumbly cookie stuff that tries to pass for hamantaschen. Like the Danish my father always brought home on Sunday morning – only better.
Without warning or announcement, the yeast dough hamantaschen simply fell out of fashion. They disappeared, never to be found again. Like those Long Island Purim carnivals, they became a distant memory.
Nonetheless, I persevere in my search. Like a relentless explorer, I wander through Jerusalem’s alleys and byways in search of a cherry filled yeast dough hamantaschen.
Recently, at one of my favorite bakeries in the shuk, I asked the owner (in Hebrew): “You ever make hamantaschen with a yeast dough?” And with a wave of his hand, he responded: “You want a yeast dough? Buy a challah.”
This year, the search is over. I’m making them at home.