Beyond the Huppah and the Tsuru

When Becky and I started planning our wedding, one of the things we learned was how popular the idea of combining the chuppah and the tsuru is. We had already agreed that those were elements we wanted, but it was interesting to hear how this was a common point of interest. In many ways, these were symbols that are readily associated with our respective cultures and somehow seem to naturally go together. In our case, we had a chuppah that was homemade and made streamers of multicolored cranes that hung from the front. There were cranes on the tables, and over the mantle in the reception hall, the senbazuru of golden cranes my brother made into a picture. We kept the chuppah, which is folded in a box, and the senbazuru is hanging over our fireplace today. But what’s beyond that?

So from the sublime to the mundane we moved towards food. My Mom likes to say that Becky’s a good eater, because when she first went to Hawai`i she ate pretty much anything thrown at her. From Hawaiian to Japanese food, she ate it all. Still, like a lot of people of our age and location, we’ve had a lot wider experience with food than previous generations. Of course, Becky had greater experience with Japanese food before I met her than I did with Jewish food. And my experience beyond bagels really started with visiting her parents for Rosh Hashanah. For the first couple of years, my experience with Jewish food revolved only around the holidays. Even then, the food is primarily Ashkenazi. Sure, there are other things, like Yiddish, that I’ve learned about more, but food is the cornerstone of any culture and nothing says holidays like food.

Which brings us to fish product. In our house, we have a jar of geflite fish. In fact, lately, we usually have one jar. It’s bought after one holiday from the clearance rack and then saved until the next holiday, when we eat it and then buy another one when I see it for sale. On the other hand, we almost never have kamaboko in the house. Of course, kamaboko is usually bought from an Asian store and we don’t go very often since there isn’t one really close. When we do, always just before O-Shogatsu and maybe once or twice a year after that, I like to get kamaboko, although I often forget and end up with just tofu.

For those not in the know, geflite fish is ground fish mixed with things like onions, pepper, and salt then poached. These days its formed into balls or loafs and you buy it either frozen or jarred. On the Japanese side is kamaboko, which is pureed fish mixed with stuff like MSG, formed into a loaf or balls and steamed. We usually eat the white half round loaf with the red skin on top. I’m not a giant fan of the fried kind although I make an exception for oden, the Japanese winter stew.

Our house, being not only Jewpanese but also a basic Jewish/Christian house, has periods where holidays and celebrations stack up. The biggest starts from Thanksgiving, goes into Maya’s birthday, my birthday, Hanukkah, Christmas, and ending with O-Shogatsu. In some years, like this year, Pesach and Easter came crashing together. It can make for long days and long nights of cleaning, cooking, and eating. There are also long shopping trips, presents that need to be organized because they are given at different times for different holidays. There are religious considerations of what means what and there are cultural ones of why this is so. In short, it’s a mess. A fun mess, but a mess.

For us, the traditional holidays often center around food. I’m sure it does for most of us. The end of the year can end up with an odd mix of leftovers that really don’t go together, but make for interesting meals.

I sometimes wonder what Maya will think about these foods as she grows up. After all, when I was a kid, I hated most of the Japanese ones, but eventually they grew on me. Now I can’t imagine holidays without them. I wonder what she’ll think of the mixture of foods and customs. Having grown up with a mix of traditional Japanese and traditional Hawaii and Mainland US, I wonder if she will think of it much in the same way I did growing up, like this is normal. Thanksgiving was always a split between “traditional” Thanksgiving food mixed with sushi and other Japanese food. What was exotic for some of my fellow gaijin when I lived in Japan at a Thanksgiving potluck, was absolutely normal for me.
In any case, I like gefilte fish. I adore my wife’s noodle kugel. And we’re forced to buy more matzo than Becky is used to because I like it more than she does. At the same time, my wife is a good eater and I still haven’t found Japanese food she wouldn’t eat. Although we haven’t done natto yet.

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