Birthdays with a zero have a special purchase on the imagination. Whether one turns 40 or 70, that zero marks a turning point, the end of an old decade and the beginning of a new one, a chance to take stock: what in Hebrew is called cheshbon ha-nefesh — literally, an accounting of your soul. And if that birthday takes place in Israel, where you once lived for years — and where you might have stayed, had you chosen to — you have a formula for cascading, competing visions of what was and what might have been.
For the birthdays of each of her grandchildren, Babulinka used to bake a krendel, a traditional Latvian cake in the shape of a B. The classic shape was really a figure eight; it just looked like a B to Babulinka's youngest grandchild, and so it became "the B cake."
The cake isn't what most children might imagine for a birthday cake. After all, it has no frosting, no layers, and no candles. Krendel (pronounced kryen-dzel) is low and yeasty with a streusel topping, more like coffee cake or a babka.
The High Holidays are a time Jews reserve for themselves. They don't seek the approval or participation of gentiles. What if African Americans stopped trying to get white people to celebrate with us and recognized that we have been essential in making this nation?