About a month ago, I started working in a synagogue and have found that since then, roughly 80% of my meals are now a bagel, cream cheese, and if I'm feeling festive, a little lox. This is not so much because I love this meal, but more because it's free, abundant, and easy to eat while you try to do ten other things at once.
This, however, is not how I remember first discovering bagels and lox. The first time the idea was even presented to me was when I was maybe eleven, staying with my father's parents, known to me as Panta and Grandma ("Panta" because I couldn't pronounce "Grandpa" as a baby). Panta sat in his Los Angeles kitchen sipping coffee, reading the LA Times and eating a huge bialy smeared with cream cheese, weird-looking pink fish and red onions. At the time, I had never seen anything so disgusting in my life.
"What's on your bagel, Panta?"
"It's called lox. You want a taste?"
"No, it looks yucky."
"You don't tell someone their breakfast looks yucky, Gabi-goo."
So I left it alone until my next visit to LA about a year later when, apparantly my taste buds had matured a little and this time when he offered me a bite of his bialy with lox, I took it and suddenly I knew I had found my new favorite food.
The timing of my newfound adoration of bagels and lox couldn't have been better, given the bar and bat mitzvah circuit that presented itself when I started seventh grade. Suddenly almost every weekend when one of my Hebrew School classmates was called to the Torah I got to eat a bagel with lox for lunch at the oneg that followed the service! Sure, there was whitefish spread and fruit and cookies and chopped liver and egg salad, but they weren't nearly as interesting to me.
The next time that bagels and lox abounded in my life wasn't a joyous an experience. In 2005, ten years after my year of bar/bat mitzvah-hopping, Panta died. I flew from Boston,where I was living at the time, for the funeral and to sit shiva with my family. When I first arrived, I couldn't eat--none of us could. But eventually, we realized we had to keep up our energy and so we turned to the masses of deli platters that people brought over overflowing with--you guessed it--bagels, cream cheese and lox.
It is said that in Judaism, we carry the Torah in times of joy and we carry the Torah in times of sadness and dispair. This rule, I've found, also applies to consumption of bagels and lox. When Panta died, the familiar food that held such fond memories suddenly felt heavy in my stomach. We were all too devastated and tired to think about coordinating anything else though, so we just kept eating the endless bagels and lox that loving friends and neighbors brought to my grandparents' house. I didn't touch another bagel-lox sandwich for a very long time after that.
And yet now, I find that they are a staple in my diet--something I eat almost mindlessly these days. This morning, as I arrived at the synagogue to set up for yet another bar mitzvah, smeared my bagel half with cream cheese and topped it with a sad-looking piece of lox, I vowed that the next bagel with lox that I eat will be eaten sitting down, with a nice cup of coffee and a thick newspaper-- or better, with someone I love--and savored slowly, just as Panta would have done.