Growing up, Erev Yom Kippur was a busy day.

I remember waking up and feeling that there was a solemnity to the day, even though the actual holy day had yet to begin. Words were measured more than usual, actions were thought about. The house smelled of chicken soup, salmon, potatoes and the kreplach that my Bubba used to make and send over to our house.

But as the day wore on and the rush began, there were two veryThere were two very important things to do important things to do—and they were done every single year, no matter what.

We would go to my father’s parents, Bobba and Zeide, and bet lekach and be blessed by my grandfather. Soon after that, we would head over to my mother’s parents, Bubba and Zeide, bet lekach and be blessed by my grandfather.

The concept of bet lekach is really quite simple. Bet means to “beg” in Yiddish. As my mother explained to us, we were begging for honey cake from our grandparents in the hopes that this would be the only “begging” that we would do in the coming year. Let us not have to beg for money, let us not have to beg for health, let us not have to beg for food. Here we are already begging for something sweet. May that be the end to our begging!

It was a custom that my very Chabad and very Russian grandparents held onto from yesteryear, fast and dear. And so my mother didn’t need to bake a honey cake; we were going to bet it twice that day!

It is amazing how the mind remembers facts, but it is the senses, smell, taste and touch that bring life to those memories.

Bobba loved to bake. Our favorite cake was her cheesecake. No one made a cheesecake quite like Bobba. It didn't look particularly fancy, now that I think of it, but the taste was just incredible.

Bubba, my mother’s mother, may she live and be well, is a fantastic baker, and quite honestly could have sold her creations. I don’t even know the names of all the cakes and cookies she made, but there was always something on her table when we came to visit. it was always homemade, and it always tasted divine.

On Erev Yom Kippur, there was only honey cake on the table at my grandparents’ houses. Bobba’s honey cake was high and fluffy, light-colored and more dry than wet. Bubba’s honey cake was lower, very moist and dark in color.

We had a certain awe of my father’s parents—a respect for them and a tendency to be quiet in their presence.

There was a moment of trepidation, nervousness, before we went up to Bobba after the small talk was over.

“Bobba ... Ich bet lekach.”

It was the one Yiddish sentence I could complete, and I was always relieved when it came out right. Bobba’s eyes would literally light up, and she would bring the plate over to us. “Lekach? Of course! Of course!” And she would hand out the honey cake with a string of blessings, usually given over in Yiddish, and a kiss on our cheek or forehead.

Bubba and Zeide lived up the street from us, and we were very familiar with their house, visiting them at least once a week, often twice. When we went to bet lekach, we often met other cousins leaving or coming at the same time.

“Bubba, Ich bet lekach!” we would state proudly, and she would dole out the honey cake with pleasure, saying “Nem, nem (‘take, take’).”

We ate the honey cake, chatted and played, and then it was time for Zeide to bentch us.

Zeide was a Holocaust survivor, and there was a part of him that got lost in the war years that never quite found its way back. He was quiet, often pensive, and kept to himself. Bubba would send us into the morning room—a little room off the kitchen where the sunlight streams in through a large window and pretty flowered curtains.

I remember Zeide’s hands trembling as he placed his hands over my head and intoned the blessing: Yevorechecha Hashem ... k’Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel v’Leah, blessing me to be like our matriarchs.

My heart would pound being in such close proximity to him, andDoes he ever have peace of mind and serenity? my mind would whirl with questions. What is he thinking about when he blesses us, his grandchildren, who don’t know the world he came from and what he left behind? What nightmares does he have of the horrors he experienced? Does he ever have peace of mind and serenity?

Every year, without fail, Zeide would lower his hands and plant a kiss on our foreheads. I can almost feel the coarseness of his beard, bumping against my face as he leaned closer to me. His kiss always felt like something I should treasure and never forget, and indeed, I will never forget it.


As Yom Kippur approaches this year and these memories come flooding back to me, I am struck by the stark differences in my own children’s lives. For a while, it caused me to feel a fundamental sadness. I live across a vast ocean from my own parents. My Bubba, who currently resides in London, will receive a phone call from me over the phone to replace the visit I used to make. My father’s parents left this world within the last few years, and I am suddenly feeling that void that family traditions and customs bring into our lives, especially around holiday time.

Tomorrow, we will go eat the meals at my dear in-laws. There will be store-bought honey cake, and I will teach my girls to bet lekach. My older one will probably laugh at the words and my second one, who can’t quite talk coherently, will stare me down and make a run with her cake. My father will bless me and my girls over the phone, and my father-in-law, Sabba, will encircle my children with his warmth and love and give them blessings.

Maybe, just maybe, I will bake a honey cake.

It’s time, perhaps, to start my own family traditions.