One day in 1989, Miriam Wald attended a new parents group in Santa Rosa with her newborn. It was a really hot day, and of all the other moms, only Deana Abramowitz seemed as obsessive about shielding her baby’s face from the sun as she was.
“We [were] the only ones who were acting a bit fermisht because of the sun,” she recalled.
Then, when they went around the circle and introduced themselves, Abramowitz said her husband was a veterinarian and that she was originally from the Bronx. Wald’s eyes lit up. She loves animals, and she has many New York friends and relatives. Plus, apparently she and Abramowitz were the only Jews in the group. “I looked at her and thought, ‘I love her already,’” Wald said.
They got together the following week, and soon after, became best friends.
When Purim came, the two decided to bake hamantaschen together.
“How did we do it with babies?” Abramowitz asked. “I don’t know, but we did.”
That one day of baking evolved into a tradition that has ended up spanning the entirety of their friendship. When they get together this week to bake hamantaschen, it will be the 29th year of an occasion they’ve come to affectionately call “The Hamantaschen Diaries.”
Wald, 59, is a retired clinical psychologist. Abramowitz, 71, is an artist.
While the two speak often on the phone and see each other socially every few weeks, it’s rare that they carve out an entire day together. But that’s what their annual baking day has become: a mini-retreat when they reminisce about the past year and talk about what’s going on in their lives. This year, Purim begins on Wednesday, Feb. 28.
“Sometimes I feel that our baking sessions [facilitate] a lot of problem-solving,” said Wald. “We really express things to each other, about what’s going on in our families, community and the world. We spend a lot of time hearing each other’s viewpoints, and it’s a very therapeutic day, spent reviewing the year gone by and what’s coming ahead as well as the hard things.”
From the beginning, they’ve tinkered with the recipe, and jotted down a few notes along the way.
Some early entries — not much more than a few words on a calendar page — say things like “the dough was too thin” or “maybe not so much flour next time,” or “let’s use wax paper.” There was one year when they tried to cut down on oil but they realized that was a mistake. “Don’t skimp on oil,” one entry reads. “They won’t come out right.”
Lately, they’ve been experimenting with flax seeds and vegan egg substitutes, since Wald went vegan seven years ago. Those Purim treats are still a work in progress.
About 10 years in, they started keeping track of other things going on with them besides just how the hamantaschen came out.
When the boys were children, they used to “help” by rolling out the dough, and then Wald’s daughter joined them. Now that the children are grown and living away from home, they receive boxes of hamantaschen sent by the moms through the U.S. mail (this reporter was promised a box, too).
“In one of the earliest years, I was pregnant with my daughter, and then 16 years later she’s driving herself over to Deana’s to help,” Wald said. “Then a few years later, she drives over with her boyfriend, who suggests we make peanut butter hamantaschen.”
Both women break into laughter. “Gevalt,” Wald said. “We do not make peanut butter hamantaschen.”
Peanut butter, maybe not. But chocolate chips, yes. One year they realized that none of their kids liked either prune or poppy seed, so they started folding in chocolate chips.
While they treasure the time together, every once in awhile someone will be visiting, and he or she will be invited to participate.
One year it was a friend of Abramowitz’s, who had been a Yiddish singer; she sang a Purim song in Yiddish as she rolled the dough. Wald videotaped it and sent it to her Holocaust survivor father.
Then there’s the year when a simple note appeared in the diary: “The potato masher!”
Wald explained: “Deana always makes the prune filling the night before, and one year she realized that the potato masher got them the perfect consistency.”
How did we do it with babies? I don’t know, but we did.
During their years together, they have weathered the loss of their parents, and a friend, and have dealt with various family members’ illnesses.
One year they moved the operation to Wald’s house — it’s usually at Abramowitz’s — because she had taken in some baby goats and they needed a bottle feeding every few hours.
In 2008, Wald’s family went to Mexico on vacation, and Abramowitz decided she’d make hamantaschen alone.
“I wrote down that it wasn’t fun, it was a chore. It’s only fun doing it with Miriam. It’s the process not the product,” Abramowitz said. “When they came back, we did it a few weeks later, even though it wasn’t Purim anymore.”
They’ve had many things to celebrate over the years — births, bar and bat mitzvahs, college graduations and weddings — and then there was the year when Wald began mailing hamantaschen to Sweden.
Wald grew up believing her father’s entire family had been wiped out in the Holocaust, but one day in 2012 she got a call from a woman in Västerås, Sweden who had been doing an internet search on her own last name (Kornstreicher) once a week for many years. As soon as she found Wald listed as a descendant of a Kornstreicher in an obituary, she called her and they realized they are either second or third cousins.
“This was an unbelievable moment in my life, realizing that there was someone alive from my father’s side,” Wald said.
While Wald has not met her in person, she now sends her hamantaschen every year. “She’s homebound now, and can’t get into Stockholm, and there’s a lot of anti-Semitism there, so it means so much to her,” Wald said. “She calls me and tells me how much she’s enjoying them.”
And although this has nothing to do with Purim or hamantaschen or the diaries, it’s a heartwarming anecdote. When Wald’s family had to evacuate twice due to the North Bay fires in October, she, her husband and his 90-year-old mother moved in with Abramowitz’s family for several nights (after the goats and chickens were taken to the county fairgrounds).
“We all were really lucky,” Abramowitz said, and “even though the fires were horrible, it was really fun having them here. It was like having a roommate and we made the best of it.”
“This has become a major way of how we cope with the changes in our families,” Wald added. “A lot of this stuff can be painful, but with your friend, you can face anything.”