It was Thomas Wolfe who said that “you can’t go home again.” Still, I sometimes try to. My memories of my earliest home, in Toronto, are admittedly scant and accompanied by the fact that my mother heatedly insisted we leave my father’s country and live in “the States” (as Canadians call it), and the inveterate anger that caused between them. HeThe subject of the war was to be avoided at all costs didn’t want to go, but in the end always gave in to her because she was a Holocaust survivor from Germany and had suffered incalculably. This we were told with great regularity. The subject of the war was to be avoided at all costs, and if it was indeed raised, a heavy silence of unmitigated pain would fall upon the house, and my mother would begin in her native language to rage and scream and cry while I stood helpless in a handmade pinafore frock in the background.

I vaguely remember my grandfather, who lived with his family above the tiny grocery store he owned, speaking Polish and a few words of heavily accented, and most of the time incorrectly used English. I seem to recall the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and its huge drama of water, the voluminous snow that arrived every winter and all the clothes we had to put on to make our way about in it. I have images of the mezuzah on his weather-beaten door and of a challah cover—purchased by his second wife from a downtown merchant—that graced the challah on Friday nights. Along with the Polish, German and English in the house, were sounds of another foreign language called Hebrew, whose words were chanted over the billowy and twisted bread. I had no idea whether the challah with its covering was Canadian in origin or had any significance, but I was always happy to eat the piece that was proffered to me, my mother urging, “Essen sie schon, du bist sehr langsam”—“Eat already, you are very slow.”

Years later, we were living in Buffalo, N.Y., and our neighbors referred to us with a contemptuous tone as “those greenhorns.” My mother had become friends with other Holocaust survivors from France, Hungary, Lithuania and Austria, and these people became our extended family. My maternal grandmother, always close to her kin, rarely spoke but constantly created culinary objects d’art in her kitchen to share with the entire European enclave—wienerschnitzel, spaetzle, linzer tortes, stollen and challah that was usually around three feet long and covered in poppy seeds. On Shabbat, a white linen cover that she had meticulously embroidered was placed atop the challah and the mysterious incantations of Hebrew were recited. After the prayers, the bread was disbursed to the eagerly awaiting crowd. To a small child, this felt like an other-worldly event that betokened grave happenings.

When I left home for university in Berkeley, Calif., I forgot much about my former life and why I had never felt like an American, as well as much of the spiritual paraphernalia around what it meant to be Jewish. I was living a secular life with few friends who were members of the tribe. Sojourns into academia also landed me in states like Idaho, where I never ran into other Jews; subsequently, the effect of that was a foreseeable further distancing from the religious practices I had experienced as a babe-in-arms. Fate delivered a husband to me, and eventually, a son who returned me to a Jewish life. I remember the moment when he came home from Hebrew school and told me excitedly about how the placement of challah under a cover and over the Shabbat tablecloth recreates the miracle of the manna the Israelites ate every day following the exodus from Egypt. He enthusiastically went on to say that the rich, eggy, yeast-leavened bread that is usually braided or twisted before baking is placed between the challah board and the challah cover to resemble the manna that was encased between layers of dew that preserved its freshness.

No one in my past had ever provided this kind of information, and suddenly, I had the sense of using an object (challah) to connect me to my larger Jewish family. This bread actually meant something to someone who was latterly impervious to those meanings. This was an emotional terrain I had left far behind, but one I was willing to begin to traverse anew. I could share the journey of becoming a better and more informed Jew with my voluble offspring.

In 2016, my boy and I moved to Greensboro, N.C., so he could pursue graduate studies and his dream of becoming a Civil War historian. We were fortunate to have a good bakery within walking distance, one that made challahs every Friday. Each week a challah would rest on our table as we welcomed in the holiday.

Several months ago, while looking for anI was startled to see challah covers featured on the website item on Etsy, I was startled to see challah covers featured on the website. Apparently, a woman (with what seemed to be a Jewish surname) in Pittsboro, N.C., was making them. I decided to buy one, and its appearance would lend the intended decorative and ceremonial aspect to the set table. After placing the order, I read some essays on the Internet and learned that the challah cover (which can be made of any fabric, even paper) is not only symbolic, but holds a halachic function When I finally received the beautiful, ornate and machine-embroidered cover, the experience somehow propelled me into joining the synagogue in my new city. I was no longer a Jew simply by having been born to Jewish parents but by moving that legacy into action. And my child was the instigator.

The present life of this challah cover is more than simply lying atop the soon-to-be consumed challah on a Friday night. It takes me back to the challah covers of my youth, particularly to the one that my German grandmother made out of a rarefied linen cloth. It is a way of reconstituting personal history and sharing this as my son takes on the significances of becoming a Jewish man. It is a reminder of my heritage and the pride that I can take in that. The icing on the cake is that a Jewish woman in a very small town in North Carolina was moved to create the challah covers and market them to the public at large, and I decided to forge a bond between us by purchasing one. I only know her name and the fact that she is a textile artist, but the threads of the tapestry between us are now shared in an acknowledgement of a common community and history.

I treasure this artifact because it will always remind me of the second chance I took of creating a new life in the Tar Heel State, and is—as we used to say in graduate school—the objective correlative of translating the relocation impulse into a final home.