A Passover Short Story by Martin Lindauer

Photo of passover table with ritual foods

Passover table

With Pesach approaching soon, the following short story by Martin Lindauer may evoke memories of parents and grandparents around the Seder table.  (originally published in the Shofar Literary Revew, March 2009  http://www.shofarlitreview.com/301.html 

Three Languages, Four Questions
“Mah nishtanah…?”
“Fa voos is die nacht von Pesach…?”
 “Why is this night different…?
      My parents and I took the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan’s lower East Side, a rare trip prompted by the Passover Seder at my grandparents cold-water flat on Delancey Street, near the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge.  As the youngest, I would say The Four Kashas, or Questions, in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English, a trilingual performance that honored my family’s European heritage, demonstrated my competency in Cheder, Hebrew school, and showed-off my successful Americanization.  Zaydabubba, and my parents understood Yiddish and read Hebrew, but hadn’t yet, as new immigrants, learned English.  To enhance my linguistic prowess, I would not consult theHaggadah, the guide to the Seder, a feat of memory comparable to reciting by heart the introductory Brachot prayers before the Torah reading, a deed that, luckily, would take place some years from now at my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13.  I rehearsed my lines, accompanied by their sing-song lilt, while feeding sticks of wood into the bulky cast-iron kitchen stove that did double-duty by cooking the meal and heating the apartment.
      Fortunately, my recitation of the Four Questions was at the beginning of the Sedar, before the sweet wine, droning prayers, and heavy food made me too sleepy to remember my lines.  My parents watched me nervously, fearing I might stumble over a word, overlook a line, or switch the order of a paragraph.  
“…but on this night we recline,” I finished with a smile and a flourish in my voice.  A perfect performance.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw mom flash a look of approval at me and dad send a nod of pride.  Zayda, though, was busy looking over the next segment of the step-by-step procedure, reviewing instructions, in Yiddish, in his yellowed Haggadah, and then reading aloud, in Hebrew, the prologue to the parable of the Four Sons:  rebellious, simple, ignorant, and wise.
I followed in the English section of my Haggadah, my head buried in the translation, but stole a look at zayda as he read the section on the son, the wise one, who knew the meaning of the Four Questions.  Perhaps he would glance my way. 
This entry was posted in Jewish Holidays, Jewish Learning, Pesach/ Passover, Short stories and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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