See this trophy? Other than academic achievement awards in school, this is the first contest I’ve ever won in my life. And I won it for Kugl.
My mom and I planned to enter the third quadrennial Kugl Kukh-Off, put on by Los Angeles cultural organization Yiddishkayt at the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, as soon as we heard about it last month. The event sounded like a curiosity not to be missed, and inspired a slew of questions. Kugl taking center stage in the heart of this trendiest of Angeleno enclaves? Would I witness the birth of the next Williamsburg, where hipsters intermingle with Hasids? And, wait, Silverlake has a JCC? I thought I might even write about the spectacle for this here blog. But never did I imagine that I’d emerge victorious. I am now the reigning People’s Choice Kugl champion until my title is contested in 2016.
Okay fine, I’ll come clean. That’s all lies. I totally imagined winning.
As a child, I was made to feel as though I were the beneficiary of an enormous and exclusive trust that would earn interest over the course of my life. My brother and I had been gifted the rich and complex inheritance of our grandparents’ survival, and none of the other kids we knew had received a birthright so special. It paid out in dribs and drabs, mostly on Friday nights after kneidlach and kugel, until we were old enough to swallow their story whole.
After a potato dish was served, my grandmother might deftly segue like this: “You know, during the war, I used to gather moldy potatoes and bits of coal that fell off the back of a train so that your aunt should have what to eat.” An hour-long recitation would commence, we’d absorb it, and fall asleep during the car ride home dreaming of Siberian soldiers and snowfalls.
Sometimes we made requests. “Tell us about how you found Uncle Henry after he was liberated from Auschwitz,” we might ask. “Tell us again about when the Nazi punched Papa in the face.”
I knew, logically, that many other kids had Holocaust survivor grandparents. And maybe if I had grown up in New York instead of Los Angeles, I might even have known some of them. Instead, I got to feel smug. So when, at the age of 30, a guy I was interested in revealed during our earliest Internet correspondence (no, it wasn’t on JDate) that not only were his grandparents survivors, but that he could share their story with me merely by cutting and pasting a link to the foundation that supports his deceased grandmother’s 36 lush and intricate fabric art panels that detail her survival story, I didn’t know how to feel. I envied. I bristled. I think I even swooned.