By the time this column is published, I will have fried a “test batch” of latkes, maybe a couple of dozen.
A few days later, I’ll get down to the serious business of preparing a larger batch. My recipe is nothing special, though I use a food processor, favor Russet potatoes and Vidalia onions, other spices, and a lot of peanut oil.
Our tradition has been to invite friends for a Chanukah menorah lighting and latkes. As with everything else, 2020 will be different. There will be no friends wandering into the kitchen, grabbing seconds or thirds, and spooning out sour cream, applesauce or red hots (an addition from my wife’s family). Only the immediate family will be around to savor, or escape, the aroma and witness my kitchen labors.
A couple of years ago, I made about 120 latkes, nearly all of which were consumed at that evening’s gathering. I may make roughly the same number this year, but thanks to COVID-19 they will be packaged for friends to pick up or to be left on their doorsteps.
As someone who checks off a couple of COVID-19 risk boxes, I have done no in-person interviews nor attended any events in nearly 10 months. I already worked from home, so that aspect of life did not change. What has changed is how often I see other people. Even introverts want the option of going out, whether they do or not.
On the other hand, a number of factors, COVID-19 among them, have enhanced my appreciation for friends, particularly those I know beyond the virtual boundaries of social media.
I only recently resumed, with physical distancing and eating outdoors, my weekly lunch with a British ex-pat friend who lives a few blocks away. Our conversation starts with soccer and moves from there to politics and other topics. Now we need to decide how to handle the onset of colder weather.
Likewise, another friend and former colleague, who lives OTP to my ITP, says that he’ll drive over and we can sit apart from each other, which beats watching each other chew our food on a computer screen.
At Sukkot, we were invited to a sukkah that friends erected in the woods behind their home, rather than on their deck. With the addition of a fire pit, it was a lovely occasion.
Another friend has brought us delights from an Israeli bakery. Her mother is a fan of my latkes and tops my list of recipients for this year’s batch.
Then there is the friend who recently stopped by with a casserole. Even though we occasionally see each other on Zoom calls, this was the first time since February that I’d seen her in person.
Back in February my wife and I flew from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., for the surprise 50th birthday party of a former colleague, whose friendship has extended past our years coordinating news coverage out of the nation’s capitol and with whom I talk often.
Email and social media allow me to maintain a friendship that began in a network’s Jerusalem bureau and spans not only 35 years, but also the 6,400 miles between Atlanta and Tel Aviv.
And a couple of months ago, a friend from college, someone with whom I’d allowed contact to lapse for an embarrassing number of years, called from three time zones away to renew our conversation.
I am grateful for the these and other friends. When they reach out and ask, “Is there anything I can do?” my first answer is “You just did it.”
COVID-19 may have had a counter-intuitive silver lining, strengthening some friendships, as Zoom calls, phone chats, emails, and social media substitute for in-person contact, whether across town, across the country, or across an ocean.
The downside, of course, is the inability to travel and see elderly parents and the cancellation of gatherings, from Passover in April to Chanukah in December.
Atlanta-based pianist Joe Alterman recently performed a live set from his apartment through Scullers, a jazz club in Boston. The next-to-last number was his arrangement of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.” The song’s chorus fits the experience that I suspect many of us have had this year.
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
’Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on