Schmaltzy Spotlight / Anna Gershenson: How a torch was passed from mother to daughter, through a dumpling
Anna Gershenson is about to turn 70. There is a photo on her mantle that sits there reassuringly, which she looks at every day. It’s a picture of her and her mother, Rhoda Gurevich, beaming adoringly at one another at Rhoda’s own 70th birthday celebration. In the photo, Rhoda is sparkling, vibrant, the most beautiful, perhaps, that she has been in her entire life. It’s a moment trapped in time that gives Anna comfort. The cruel joke is that, shortly after that picture was taken, Rhoda was diagnosed with cancer, and in less than two years, she would be gone.
Rhoda was Anna’s mom, but she was also her best friend. Rhoda gave birth to Anna in Riga, Latvia, when she was 19 years old, just after the war ended. She was a working mom who always found time to make dinner and cook the holiday meals. When Anna was growing up, she would spend as much time as she could in the kitchen at Rhoda’s side, taking particular pleasure in watching her prepare the festive Jewish dishes. During Rosh Hashana and Passover, Rhoda would make gefilte fish from local freshwater fish, and Anna delighted in assisting her, and tasting the sweet, delicious results.
These memories ached in Anna’s heart as the family buried Rhoda just a week before Rosh Hashana. What happens when a parent dies? A void needs to be filled. Someone needs to pick up the torch. Rhoda owned the holidays. Anna realized that now, she was the oldest woman in the family, and the role that needed filling had belonged to a formidable matriarch. Anna was bereft, but she found a way to pull herself together, and that was through holiday cooking. This meant making the foods that Rhoda would have made, and putting extra passion and purpose into her own traditions, like the kreplach soup that she cooks every year.
Anna performed her story live on March 7, 2017 at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City as part of the Schmaltzy storytelling event.