We called her “Mommom” I explained, because she felt too youthful to be called something “grandmotherly”. Most of our friends and the neighborhood children called her “Mommom” too, and she played that role as well for many of the hosts for whom she prepared beautiful affairs. During the shiva, visitors commented that many people do not remember the name of their wedding caterer, but for Ceil, they felt the need to visit during her shiva.
She not only catered, but she advised and held the hands of many who prepared to send their son for a bris, to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah, or to walk a child down the aisle. How many caterers can hold the kallahs face in their hands while imparting in them the essence of what it means to daven under the chuppah? In those hands was the experience of a woman who had seen so much, and walked so many to their place beside their soon-to-be life partner.
Prior to catering, she was the first teacher in the Shomrei Emunah Nursery School, and pictures of early students were conduits for wonderful stories and memories.
She began catering in Silver Spring, in 1967, and the Bar Mitzvah of that event, a close family friend, called during shiva, and all present reminisced about her beginnings in the business. She began as a lead member of the Kiddush Committee at Shomrei Emunah, and emerged as a caterer who became, as we were told, “a legend in the business”. The personal touch that she added to her affairs are remembered so many years later, as ba’alei simcha recall their expressions as they entered a wedding, or Bar/Bat Mitzvah to be greeted by an occasion significantly more spectacular than what was agreed upon on the contract, yet the price remained unchanged.
Parents knew that if Ceil was there, the affair would run smoothly, like a beautiful dance, and that at the end of the evening, they would reflect on a breathtaking memory. I remember the time someone asked her about retiring. She responded, “How can I retire? I am part of people’s simcha all the time!” When speaking with a local caterer, I learned that Mommom was considered “different” among her colleagues, because she wanted everyone to succeed. “Competition was not part of her world” she said. “Ceil wanted everyone to do well, and she would help whenever she thought she could.”
Not worrying about the competition can be attributed to her tremendous faith in The Almighty. She believed that whatever was due to her, she would receive, and that helping another in business was what her Creator expected of her.
Mommom was the same age that my husband’s parents would have been, and he regarded her as his own, as she did him. He felt honored to be among her grandchildren, as we all did, and we know now that we have two advocates above. May their memories be a blessing.
Celia Finkel is survived by her husband of 69 years, Yankel Finkel, Children, Grandchildren, and Great Grandchildren.
Donations in her memory can be made to the Bikur Cholim of Greater Washington, and to the Torah School of Greater Washington.