How a Bagel Won Me a Life-Long Friend – Kveller
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jewish identity

How a Bagel Won Me a Life-Long Friend

As the only Jewish kid in my school, I was so grateful that my friend accepted me despite my differences.

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It’s hard to imagine that, at one point in history, not every American knew what a bagel was

I was born in 1974 to a Jewish mother and Protestant father, who had all but converted to Judaism. My parents met in Arizona in the mid 1960s when my dad was stationed at the Air Force Base in Tucson and where my mom and her recently widowed mother and siblings had relocated from Connecticut. 

My mom, raised eating authentic “back East bagels,” was lucky if she could find frozen Lender’s bagels at the grocery store in Colorado Springs where my dad was stationed two years before my birth. My mom’s dad had a delicatessen while she was growing up, so when she stumbled upon an opportunity to manage a restaurant called The Bagel Nosh in 1983, she leapt at the chance.  

My mom ultimately became partners with the owner and they renamed the restaurant Lox, Stock and Bagels. They opened a location in downtown Colorado Springs across from the bus station. 

My mother is an exceptional cook and she used her Jewish roots to inspire the menu. Chicken soup and matzah balls on Fridays always sold out quickly from the local business people who worked nearby. 

Mom was able to order bagels from a wholesaler in Denver, and she offered simple bagels with a schmear as well as pizza bagels at the “shop,” as it was affectionately called. The only problem was, not everyone knew what a bagel was. 

So my mom turned to radio to advertise the shop and to educate the city about bagels. Her radio spot had her explaining that “a bagel is a roll with a hole in the middle.”

I was a shy kid who wasn’t used to having many friends. And I was literally the only Jewish kid in my school. I often felt that my shyness and my different traditions set me apart from my classmates. After all, I was the only person who brought PB & J on matzah for lunch during Passover and I often had to dispel myths my peers believed about my religion. Recess and lunchtime were lonely for me. 

But in the third grade, there was one girl who did me the courtesy of inviting me to her birthday party. On the day of, not used to such invitations, it had slipped my mind that I had somewhere to be. At the last moment, my older brother came to fetch me from the neighbor’s house so I could gather what I needed for this birthday/slumber party for my relatively new friend. 

My mom suddenly realized I didn’t have a present to bring and it was way too late to go shopping for one. Being a resourceful and creative person, she fished out a bagel from the kitchen, sliced it in half and then placed a five dollar bill on the bottom half of the bagel, setting the top half on the cash and wrapping the whole thing up in aluminum foil. 

I was mortified. I was 9 years old and desperately wishing I had a Smurf figurine or a Care Bear to give my friend rather than this overtly Jewish breakfast food with money inside. I wasn’t sure how the other kids at the birthday party, who I didn’t really know, were going to react to my unconventional gift 

Fortunately, my new friend was stoked to receive money. I mean, five bucks to a 9-year-old in 1983 was pretty impressive. And her parents thought wrapping it up in a bagel was cute and clever. 

Soon after this party, my new friend became my best friend. We were inseparable, often spending Saturday afternoons at my mom’s shop. We were given free reign over the soda fountain and we mixed different flavors together. We enjoyed munching on pizza bagels while drawing on the dry erase board hanging in the restaurant. 

I’m happy to be able to still call her my friend 40 years later. And I’m happy that bagels are so popular and that I was able to overcome a moment that initially seemed embarrassing. 

After seven years of running the shop and providing catering services for weddings and office openings, my mom sold it and moved onto other ventures. Now, at almost 80, she loves to reminisce about her days owning a restaurant. 

As for my friend, she’ll be 50 years old in September of 2024. I think I will send her a nice pumpernickel with a picture of Ulysses S. Grant tucked inside. 

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