An advertisement for a dream kitchen caught my eye recently—spacious, gleaming countertops; feast-for-your-eyes cabinetry; top-of-the-line appliances. I felt a tug at my heart, remembering—in contrast—my mother’s kitchens. I grew up in rented apartments, but no matter how small and outdated the kitchen might have been, it was truly the focal point of our home.I felt a tug at my heart

As cramped as the room usually was, there was a place for everything. Of course, this was not difficult to accomplish, as Mother never owned gadgetry. Her potato kugel and latkes were hand-grated (even after food processors were the norm), and she even considered a vegetable peeler unnecessary. As far as she was concerned, stained clothing had to be treated on an old-fashioned scrubbing board, and the only way to have a thoroughly clean floor was to use a scrub brush.

Neighbors would attempt to dissuade her from using these backbreaking, finger-imperiling methods, but soon conceded that Mrs. Schreiber’s results were far superior to theirs. However, beyond my mother’s exceptional culinary talent and general housewifely expertise, there was something quite remarkable about her kitchen.

My mother had a special corner we children called “Mommy’s nook.” The nook was a haven that attracted the unfortunate—spinsters, widows, women who were destitute, lonely, or otherwise down and out. Many were Holocaust survivors, like my mother; but unlike her, they dwelt in their tragic pasts. In Mommy’s nook they found a listening ear and an understanding heart, along with a cup of tea and mouth-watering apple strudel, fresh-baked rugelach, or perhaps an extra-large bowl of nourishing soup that reminded the diners of di alte heim (“the old home”). Until I If there was soup, she slurped itreached my teens, I did not realize that my family had a household budget, so generously were these portions dispensed.

Azoi git, azoi batampt (so good, so tasty),” the guests would say. At first I found their praises redundant. Only after a while did I understand that they were referring to much more than the mere taste of the food.

There was one guest, I am still embarrassed to admit, whom my sister and I found particularly difficult to welcome. Aunt Becky, as she insisted we call her, lived alone in a cheerless apartment, furnished with heavy, dark pieces that looked even older than she was. Whenever she did not appear at our door for a few days, our mother would send us down to her airless apartment to invite her for dinner, usually on an evening that our father was coming home late. The main problem for us was that she seemed to expect Mother’s undivided attention. But there was also the matter of the noise Aunt Becky made as she ate. If, for instance, there was soup, she slurped it.

Once, when Aunt Becky was not present, my sister expertly mimicked her slurping sounds. I almost choked with laughter—until I saw the tears glistening in my mother’s eyes. My sister and I never forgot her rebuke, or her disappointment in us.

Mommy’s nook extended beyond our four walls, too, whenever a situation warranted it. When the Hochmans’ baby suddenly needed out-of-town medical care, Mommy was at the forefront of the neighborhood chessed (kindness) squad, taking care Mommy’s nook extended beyond our four walls, tooof the family’s needs. Their next-to-youngest, a rambunctious two-year-old, could fall asleep only after Mommy’s routine of picking him up to kiss the mezuzah and then reading him a bedtime story in her halting English, often improvising and improving on the original.

In this way, Mommy’s nook became a symbol of more than just motherly love. It extended to include anyone who needed a giving, warm-hearted touch. Mommy’s nook proved the adage that asserts, “If there’s room in your heart, there’s room in your home.”