Walking back through the corridor after leaving Shaya at preschool, I inhaled a most familiar scent. The synagogue, in all its musty sweetness, carried the scent of something I’d known my whole life, something that connected me with the intricate fabric of what I’ve always held close.
I can’t describe it and you may laugh because, I mean, this opens up all sorts of possibilities for jokes about how the synagogue smells…but I’m serious. It’s a scent I don’t recognize in the Orthodox synagogues I’ve frequented for the past ten years, but it’s present in many other synagogues that I merely walk through or stop in at for a brief and momentous connection.
Like the smell of dill in my grandmother’s chicken soup. For me, Judaism is about celebrating the earthly, about living a life steeped in sensory experiences.
I don’t recall paying attention to the ingredients of my childhood meals. When I was younger, they appeared on the table as we gathered around it, and the flavors and scents were satisfying at the deepest level. My mother asked my father about his day and he talked about the world of scrap metal in words I may not have understood but was comforted by.
And so when I sliced leeks down the center and left them open and exposed on the baking sheet, sprinkled with salt and peppered with garlic chunks and drizzled with olive oil, I did it without thinking. From the oven emanated the sound of high-temperature roasting. Outside, the grill worked magic for a melange of flavors on my table and a glass of red wine sipped for its inherent warmth.
I didn’t think about the subtle touch leeks add to most recipes, didn’t ponder their delicate, more palatable sweetness than onions. I let them soften, then cut gently with my knife, pairing salty with sweet, tender with strong, all the scents mingling into a perfume so familiar.
It was all beneath the surface, really. That leeks are health-promoting, like most vegetables. That they have a part in lowering bad blood cholesterol. That, consumed regularly, leeks might reduce the risk of certain cancers, swiping cancer-loving toxins from my body and leaving me whole.
I didn’t think of any of those details. I just enjoyed each luscious bite, not rushing through one, knowing another was close behind, living the knowledge that I would taste until sated.