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The Table

By Louise Laurence-Israëls

The old family table now stands in the dining area of our house in Bethesda. The table was made in 1907 when my grandparents got married. It was made of solid mahogany wood in Holland. It was our custom to gather around it for big meals at birthdays, holidays, and any other excuse to be with family and friends. The table was made to seat 24. When it is closed, it seats eight, but you can pull it open and for each board you insert, another set of legs pops out from the bottom.

My grandmother loved to cook and bake and made many dinners. Her cooking tasted so good— her recipes call for pounds of butter, many eggs, and always cream instead of milk. There were not many Friday nights when the table was not surrounded by people who had a very good time at Shabbat dinner.

This routine was abruptly halted when the Nazis invaded Holland. German officers confiscated the house and my grandparents went into hiding.

What happened to the table? I wish the table could tell the story.

The house was pretty comfortable and had many rooms filled with beautiful furnishings. Did these Nazi officers have nice banquets? Did they enjoy sitting at such a beautiful table? What did they discuss? Did they talk there about strategies to murder Jews? Did they realize that many Shabbat dinners were enjoyed at the same table they were using for meetings to plot the removal of all Jews in Holland?

They must have had very good food, while we were always hungry in hiding.

After we were liberated, it took a while before my grandparents went back to their home—they were afraid of what they would find. They were very surprised. The house seemed cared for and it seemed that most of their furnishings were still there, including the table that could seat 24.

Of course, a lot of the artifacts were missing. Before they had gone into hiding, they had tried to safeguard many beautiful things.

My grandmother was so happy to see her table still standing. She realized though that a lot of her friends and family members would not enjoy her cooking anymore, would not be singing Shabbat songs, would not help her celebrate birthdays. They were no more; they had been put on transports and were brutally murdered. My grandmother was a strong person and she made up her mind to continue with her gatherings. It was not easy. For many years, food was rationed and it was difficult to get the right ingredients for her recipes.

The first party that I remember was my grandfather’s 70th birthday in 1949. The table was so pretty. There were flowers and everything was shining. I think we were about 14 people. Dinner was delicious.

My grandmother passed away eight years later, and the table remained in her house but it got no use for the next two years while my grandfather lived alone there.

Then my dad needed a table in his office, and the table was moved to Amsterdam after my grandfather passed away. My father used it as a desk and for meetings for the next 14 years.

When my dad retired, we had one more gathering in his office. We celebrated my dad’s retirement seated at the table with wine and cheese. I was living in Italy but I did not want to miss the event. I did not tell my parents that I would try to come. At the time the party was supposed to start, I rang the doorbell at the office. It was dusk and when my father opened the door he did not recognize me for an instant. Then a big smile appeared on his face.

The table remained for a few more years in the same building. In the meantime my family moved to Belgium. One day my parents asked us if we had an interest in the table. We immediately said yes. A few weeks later we borrowed a friend’s van and went to Holland to pick it up, including all the leaves to extend it.

When my grandmother had the table made, she also had beautiful linens made for it. My mom gave me the largest tablecloths and napkins, and the smaller ones she gave to my sister. We made a promise to each other that we would lend the tablecloths to one another, since some of them were matching.

We did a lot of entertaining while we lived in Belgium; the table was used a lot. Our eldest daughter had her bat mitzvah in 1980 and many of our relatives came to celebrate with us. I went to France to buy special croissants, and my mother-in-law brought many pounds of smoked salmon from the States. The day after the bat mitzvah we had a family breakfast. We opened the table with all the extensions and had a breakfast for 24. I borrowed the extra tablecloth from my sister.

The table was extended again to all its glory. We did the same for our other daughters. After our assignment in Belgium was over we moved back to the United States. The military sent movers who packed the table carefully and the table arrived at our new house.

The next big event was our eldest daughter’s wedding in 1989. The table was used for dinners with family and friends and sometimes we had to add another table so we could seat everybody. This time my sister brought her tablecloth and napkins all the way from Holland.

Cooking and setting the table always kept me busy. All the holidays and birthdays were celebrated at the table. When my husband retired from the Army, we brought the table to our house in Maryland. Now we sit for dinner at the table with our own children and grandchildren. There are 14 of us. Our youngest granddaughter danced on the table, it is as strong as ever.

©2008, Louise Lawrence-Israëls. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.