Monday, April 14, 2014


On the poorest street in the poorest section of the poorest city near your house, in front of the poorest house on the street, my limousine pulls up.  I have come to see my old mother, who will not move; this is her home.  My father is long gone now; my brothers – the wise one, the simple one, the one who did not know how to ask – are too busy to come.  Who is left then to run the seder?  I, the wicked son.
In our part of the house, I will ask the four questions, and my mother will tell the story.
 My father and grandfather are here; both died some time ago, but they both still know the haggadah backwards and forwards, and they still read Hebrew at warp speed.  My grandfather is sober and serious, my father full of zest and mischief.
 At the same table – we can’t see each other, but I know that they are here – are families in old striped garments.  They are still celebrating Passover within the holocaust; the men have surreptitiously written a haggadah from memory.  The women have somehow exchanged enough scraps of food with each other to make a meal.  They will always be reliving the holocaust, as if for the first time.
 At the far end of the table are a group of Jews who have brought with them paintings they can turn to the wall when the seder begins.  They have forgotten why they do this, but their families have done it for generations.  They are the forced converts of Spain and Italy, conforming Christians on the outside, loyal Jews on the inside.
Scattered around the table are Jews from exotic places: Chinese Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Djerban Jews, Mountain Jews, Yemenite Jews.  They have each brought their own customs, the only authentic ones, as far as they’re concerned.
 Some small groups brought their own tables., and fit them into the room.  These are people from different parts of the world – Lima, Peru; San Nicandro, Italy; Portugal - who had a sudden revelation that although centuries had passed, centuries that should have wiped out all memories, they were really Jewish.  They have to find out what being really Jewish means, but they are determined to find out.
Seated together are a group in modern clothes.  They believe that mankind is moving toward a unified spiritual life, and that those merely ritual aspects that separate us should be examined to see whether they are worth keeping.  Still, it is Passover, and at Passover one gathers to hold a seder.
 If you look closely, you will see a group of very ancient Jews, celebrating Passover as they did four thousand years ago.  They have spent the last two weeks selecting and preparing the lamb that is to be roasted and eaten, and as darkness begins to fall they are more than ready to begin.
 A night of vigil is about to begin.  We dare not leave the house till the break of dawn.  What is the vigil for?  Isn’t that what I was trying to ask, so long ago?

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