Tevye's Seder

AuthorTzvi Fishman
Publication Date01 April 2021
Several months had transpired since the losing encounter with Hannie. Now, come Pesach Night, Tevye donned the white kittel he had brought from Anatevka, and prepared to commence the traditional Seder. As usual, there was a feeling of joy and anticipation in the air. The long wooden table was laden with wine bottles and matzah. In front of Tevye was the silver Seder plate which had belonged to his parents. While most of Jerusalem had entered the age of electricity, thanks to the two power stations that the Mandate Government had allowed Pincus Rutenberg to build along the Yarkon and Jordan Rivers, and the new electric plant at Naharayim, there were still neighborhoods in the Old City, like Tevye's, where oil lamps and candles lit up the homes. Joining Tevye and Carmel at the Seder table were their children, Tzvi, Boaz, and Naomi; Hodel and her children, Ben Zion and Ruth; and Tevye's grandchildren, Hannie and Moishe. Tevye's daughter, Hava, was celebrating the holiday in Hevron with her husband, Hevedke, and their son, Akiva. After Moishe and Hannie left Olat HaSharchar for Jerusalem, Ruchel and Nachman had decided to move with their three children to the mountain-side city of Safed, famous for the great Kabbalists who had lived there, so that Nachman could devote more time to his Torah studies. Baylke had written from New York that she wanted very badly to visit the family in Palestine, but her son, George, was too young for such a long journey, and her husband, Pedhotzer, was involved in a promising business venture with "two wonderful Jewish fellows, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky."

"George?" Tevye wondered. "What kind of name was that for a Jewish grandson?"

King George had been King of England when the British ousted the Turkish regime from Palestine, and David Lloyd George had been England's Prime Minister, a friend to the Jews during the first years of the Mandate. Streets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were named after them – but a son? As for Siegel and Lansky, Tevye had never heard of them. The two names together sounded like a law firm to him.

Another person, whom Moishe had invited, graced the table, a young Rabbi, also called Moshe, whose round, clean-shaven face shone brightly in anticipation, like the evening's full moon. Rabbi Moshe Segal was almost ten years older than Moishe. When Tevye had introduced his grandson to Rabbi Kook, the esteemed Chief Rabbi had asked Moshe Segal to learn with the youth, as his first Jerusalem havruta study partner. Already in Russia, the young Segal, a passionate lover of Torah, had become an outstanding student at the famous Mir Yeshiva. Arriving in the Promised Land to escape the increasing persecutions, Segal shed the somber garb of the exile, as if making a loud and clear statement that the galut, at least for him, had come to an end. He could be seen walking on streets of Jerusalem, his head held high, a proud look on his face, dressed in the open-collared blouse of a kibbutznik, khaki pants, and sandals, with a worker's cap on his head, tilted to one side atop curls of wavy blond hair.

Last, but not least, the memory of Hillel, who had been murdered by Arabs during the Pesach holiday almost a decade before, hovered over the gathering in Tevye's home, and, of course, the soul of Golda was present in the room, as on every joyous family occasion. Tevye flipped through the first few pages of the Haggadah, reminding himself of the order of Kadash, Rachatz, Karpas, Yachatz, Magid, which, as the master of the Seder, he conducted like an orchestra leader, year after year. With a worried expression, Hannie's eyes darted to Moishe and Carmel, but her grandfather didn't notice. In a deep, melodious voice, he sang out the Festival Kiddush and emotionally recited the Shechyanu blessing, thanking the L-rd for having let them all reach this year's Seder night.

Leaning to his left side like a noble in the kingly courts of old, Tevye downed the strong sweet wine in one continuous gulp. Wasn't this the Festival of Freedom? When the others had finished their glasses, hands were washed without a blessing, and everyone dipped a small piece of potato into salt water and ate the "karpas" after reciting the appropriate blessing. Next, Tevye divided the middle of the three round matzahs before him into two pieces, and set the bigger portion under the pillow on an empty chair beside him, playfully warning the children not to steal the "afikomen" before the end of the meal. All the while, Hannie exchanged nervous glances with Carmel, as if they shared some secret, but again, Tevye was too preoccupied with the rituals of the Seder to notice.

Holding up the matzah, he began the story of the Seder, reading from the Haggadah which he had brought with him from Anatevka. "This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and partake in the Passover Seder."

Just then, there was a knock on the door. Surprised, Tevye glanced up, thinking that it was either Elijah the Prophet or one of the neighbors. As he looked up, he saw Hannie blush like a little girl. Her round, pink cheeks turned crimson. She glanced nervously at his wife, then looked down at her plate.

"Who can it be?" Tevye asked, standing.

"I forgot to tell you," his wife replied. "Hannie invited a friend from the university to join us. He doesn't have any family in Israel."

"A friend from the university?" Tevye muttered.

...

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