The Secret Ingredient in Grandma’s Matzah Ball Soup

The Secret Ingredient in Grandma’s Matzah Ball Soup

Growing up, I only had one grandparent, so every Passover we Freedmans would drive up from Baltimore to New York City to spend seder night at Grandma’s house.

When we got there, the afternoon before the seder, my grandmother would always sit me and my siblings down in the dining room with bowls of matzah ball soup. There was nothing so special about the soup itself, or the matzah ball floating in it, which were prepared by grandma’s long-time housekeeper, Lilly.

What WAS special was something floating in the soup beside the matzah ball–an ice cube.

I was remembering that ice cube this Shabbat, as I read the wonderful new book Heal Me: A Kabbalistic Approach to Physical and Spiritual Well-Being in which Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer writes about how children feel loved.

Rav Gedaliah, reminiscing back 70 years, shares:

“When I was a young child, my sister was born.

“We lived in a 3-story building, and every day my mother, carrying my sister in her arms, with me trailing after them, would come out of the building and go down a cement ramp that led to the basement where my sister’s carriage was kept. She would put my sister into the carriage and pull it up the ramp onto the street. I would always help her with the pulling.

“One day, my mother turned to me and said, ‘You know, you’re getting stronger all the time,’ and even now, in moments of weakness, I remember my mother telling me, ‘You’re getting stronger all the time.’

“If you close your eyes and ask yourself, ‘What was the greatest experience of love I shared with my mother?’ then, if you are like most people, you will inevitably see something quite simple.

“In fact, so simple, that if you were to tell your mother that this image is what represents her profound love, she would probably be very disappointed.

“And yet, for you, that simple experience engenders a love infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.”

Reading over Rav Gedalia’s story got me thinking…If I remember back, and try to pinpoint my most poignant experience of my mother’s love, I see the hand-written letters she would mail me when I was in college. I don’t remember nearly anything about the content of those letters, and between us, the content didn’t really matter. What mattered was the fact that my mother remembered me, that she took the time to sit down and write a letter and stick a stamp onto it and mail it to me. Yes, that did matter to me. And it still does.

And when I think of my grandmother, and her love for me, I remember that ice cube floating in Lilly’s matzah ball soup. The ice cube which she put in the hot soup so my tongue wouldn’t burn, so the soup would be just the right temperature for my 7-year-old palate. Grandma cared for me and was watching out for me.

My grandmother passed away in 1994, during my first year in Israel. She never met my husband or my children, the oldest of whom is named after her.

But recently, strangely but amazingly, I felt my grandmother expressing her love for me yet again…

Three years ago, for a horrific reason long-time readers will remember (and I would rather forget!) we decided to leave Nachlaot, the neighborhood where we lived for 20 years. And that meant we needed to sell our home there.

This was not so easy to do, since (because of the local band of pedophiles who prompted our move) I decided I did not want to sell our home to a family with children. The problem was, the only people interested in buying our 3-bedroom home seemed to be families with kids…

And then, one day, our super-dedicated real-estate agent ran into an old classmate she hadn’t seen in many years at a history lecture on an obscure topic they both happened to be attending in Nachlaot. After the class, they were schmoozing, and the classmate said that she was living with her family in a community outside Jerusalem, but she was interested in buying a property, a long-term investment which she would rent out to students. Did her friend possibly know of a property for sale in Nachlaot?

At the contract signing, I felt so powerfully how Hashem was carefully, with exact precision, orchestrating our Exodus from Nachlaot.

And then, during the signing, something weird happened.

The two old classmates–our real estate agent and our buyer– were catching up on old times.

And they started reminiscing about a certain building where they had spent a lot of time, where some mutual friends had lived.

“In which building did you say your friends live?” I asked.

“101 Central Park West.”

“How funny that you mention that building, that was my grandmother’s building!”

And tears came to my eyes.

There I was, half-way across the world, about to give birth to my 8th child, finally making an exit from one of the most challenging experiences of my life…and I felt my grandmother there.

“My dear, beloved Jenny, I can no longer put an ice cube in your matzah-ball soup to protect your tongue…

“But I love you more than I can say and am watching out for you, especially when you need a little help from friends in high places.”


  1. Beautiful!

  2. loved this.

  3. This idea is so powerful… the little ways we show our love that leave such an impression… I should do more of that with intention…
    Thank you for sharing the hashgacha pratis story of your apartment, too. It’s in the small details that we feel Hashems love for us (and the continued love of relatives in the next world). Thank you for once again lifting the veil so we can get a glimpse of Hashem through your connecting the dots…

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