The end of challah tradition with Pratzel’s closing

By Marcy Jackoway Cornfeld

About 25 years ago, my High Holiday preparations included standing in the long line, a line that sometimes stretched out the door, at Pratzel’s Bakery on Ballas. I looked forward to that time even though other tasks were pressing as I idled there. In those days, you could still hear whole conversations in Yiddish. We were in Creve Coeur, but the sounds and the smells and the reason we were all there transported us to anywhere and anytime in the Yiddish world.   

As the years went by, conversations were only peppered with Yiddish. But there were lots of “Happy New Years” and Hebrew “Chag Sameachs” to go around.

Every Yom Kippur I placed a large order for breaking the fast.  The challenge was picking it up close enough to the holiday that it would be fresh the next day, but before Pratzel’s closed early. One year I missed. I had a sign up on my door reminding me to go to Pratzel’s, but I got used to the sign. It was late afternoon. The sun would be setting.  My guests the next night would starve – well, almost. But what would they put their lox on?

I called the store. It was well after closing. The phone rang and someone picked up. She had my order. The thing was, she had only returned to the store for an item that she forgot. I called at the moment someone was there. The spiritual was getting very personal. She drove to my house with my order. I don’t think I ever wrote a thank-you note. Please consider this it.    

And when I picked up my weekly challahs, even the non-Jewish ladies who worked behind the counter handed my bags to me with a “Shabbat Shalom.” Pratzel’s was my own Cheers – everybody knew my name. When I would arrive on Friday each clerk would know my order and ask after my family and I would ask after theirs.

The challah I brought home would sit on our Shabbat table, waiting to be revealed. We all looked forward to it, including our poodle. He knew in the afternoon, when I placed the candlesticks on the table, that soon he would get his special treat. He didn’t just gobble the bread – first, he danced. He loved Shabbat, too.

I looked forward to the leftover challah or the extra one I had purchased to eat Saturday morning. There was nothing as good as a “thwok” from the center, plain or with butter and peach jelly.

So, I joined the line on the last Friday Pratzel’s was open. There weren’t any challahs or bagels left. I scurried to Dierbergs where of late I had enjoyed the convenience of buying Pratzel’s breads with the rest of my groceries.  Even at the two small shelves there, I would often find the camaraderie of the bakery itself. Now there were a mere four challahs left.

I had a moral dilemma. Do I take them all and leave none for anyone else? I admit it. I took three – one for my sister! As soon as I turned away, a man came for the remaining challah. He had also just left Pratzel’s empty-handed.  We shared a little moment of sorrow at the passing of the store, the kosher bakeries of St. Louis, the era. It was a little bit like shiva. 

Maybe I will learn to bake my own challah. But will I do it? Every Friday? And I hear that there are tasty challahs at stores around town. That may be true. But I think the flavor will be gone.   

Marcy Jackoway Cornfeld lives in Creve Coeur and likes challah almost as much as her poodles do.