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The Marriage Test

(by Malka Margolies)

My parents never argued in front of their children, with one exception. Over time, both became increasingly entrenched in their version of one story: My mom insisted that my father proposed to her on their second date. “That’s nonsense, Ruthie,” my father would say as he waved one hand in the air to dismiss the charge. “It was the third date.” But they both admitted that they were engaged within two weeks of meeting. And their stories about their whirlwind courtship did match up when each told me independently about the one condition that predicated their marriage: My mother had to learn how to make my father’s mother’s kugel.

It is not the standard sweet noodle pudding that graces many Jewish holiday tables; it’s peppery, devoid of the traditional raisins or cinnamon (in Israel, it’s known as a Yerushalmi kugel, a Jerusalem kugel). It’s really my great-grandmother’s kugel. The Bubbe Mushke was born in the port city of Jaffa, Israel, where her daughter Malka (my namesake) also was born. Malka moved to Jerusalem when she married; my father was born there, and the family came to America when he was eight years old. Wherever they lived, from the Holy Land to the Bronx, one constant was the kugel for Sabbath dinner. Every. Single. Week. But Malka died young, two years before my parents met. It was her daughter, my Aunt Bella, who taught my mother how to make the kugel as she prepared to enter the family.