Leo’s Bakery in Albany closed a couple of years ago, so I was surprised to find it mentioned in the New York Times Diner’s Journal blog —and I was reminded of a memorable morning I spent at Leo’s 13 years ago.
Zack was being baptized and we were expecting a house full of people, so I showed up early to pick up our order: a big cross-shaped cake with white frosting. When I got Leo’s there were a hundred people lined up outside. That’s odd, I thought, a line outside the bakery? On a Sunday morning? What the hell? As I stood there waiting, person after person left the store with big brown bags. After almost an hour I could see what they were all buying: Challah bread. It turned out that Leo’s was not an Italian bakery, as Ann had told me, but a Jewish bakery —and Rosh Hashanah was to begin at sundown.
As I got to the front of the line , a local rabbi working the crowd grabbed my hand and heartily wished me, “Shana Tova Umetukah!” And then -almost simultaneously- the woman behind the counter held up my big cross shaped cake. Silence fell over the room. I pulled out my checkbook, because just as I’d been told Leo’s was an Italian bakery, I was also told they took checks. Wrong. So here I am in the Jewish bakery on Rosh Hashanah with my big cross-shaped cake —and after waiting on line for an hour I couldn’t pay for it. As I started backing out the door mumbling something about the ATM machine, no less than five people offered to front me the money. People were actually reaching into their wallets and pulling out $20 bills, but I was so confused and embarrassed that I kept going.
By the time I got back to Leo’s they’d been been cleaned out of challah, but there was my cake in the glass case. Later, stuffing my face with cross cake, I couldn’t forget all the people who practically fell over each other to try and help me —and I haven’t forgotten them since.