They Tried To Kill Us. They Failed. So, Let’s Eat A Lot And Get Drunk.

March 23rd, 2013 § 2 comments

Passover is here. Matzos sit next to Easter Bunnies on supermarket shelves across America. It’s that time of year. Boisterous eating and drinking dominated HG’s family Passover celebration, the Seder, when some 76 years ago much of HG’s family was centered in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Though a very young lad then, aged HG still remembers all the details of the raucous family feast. First, a small glass of wine and a tiny plate of food was placed on the table for the prophet Elijah (in the unlikely event that he would manifest himself in Brooklyn). The table was set with the symbolic dishes (these were not eaten) of the Hebrew captivity in Egypt. There was the reading of the Hagaddah, the tale of Passover (In those long ago days, the Hagaddahs were published by the Maxwell House Coffee Company. They were distributed, free of charge, at Jewish “appetizing” stores and kosher butchers. A canny PR move by the coffee merchants). A matzo (the traditional unleavened bread obligatory during Passover) was folded into a napkin and “hidden.” This was called the afikomen and when found by the young members of the family each got a monetary award — a shiny half-dollar. (Many years later, HG learned that when the lucky children of one of HG’s real estate mogul public relations clients found the “afikomen” each were rewarded with a $10,000 check). The big moment for little HG was when he was called upon to ask “the four questions” — the inquiry as to why this celebratory Passover night was different from any other night of the year. The small boy relished the spotlight and asked the questions — spoken in English and chanted in Hebrew — with many bravura, theatrical flourishes. “A regular Thomashefsky!!,” HG’s uncle exclaimed, approvingly. (Boris Thomashefsky was a flamboyant star of the Yiddish stage. The conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas — who shortened the name — is his direct descendant). The serious eating began with copious portions of gefilte fish (a very robust version of the French “quenelle”) with heaps of fiery, freshly grated horseradish. Followed by brisket, copious gravy, roasted carrots and onions plus knaidels — matzo meal dumplings which had a sponge like capacity for soaking up gravy. All of this was accompanied by many glasses of kosher-for-passover Schapiro’s sweet Malaga grape wine (purchased at the Schapiro lower east side winery – now closed). The wine carried a kick so the Seder became louder and more irreverent as the evening progressed. Dessert was a compote of stewed fruit plus special Passover pastries like coconut macaroons. Bottles of Vishniak (cherry brandy) and Slivovitz (plum brandy) appeared and were drunk in abundance. A Seder song, Chad Gadya, a song about the survival of a symbolic kid, was sung and shouted — loudly. More songs. Some secular and even naughty. More brandy drinking. At one memorable Seder, the group was singing: “We love Jesus, yes we do. We love Jesus, yes we do. Hooray for Jesus. Hooray for Jesus. Damn good Jew!!” Two very Irish looking cops appeared at the door. Asked the family to tone things down. Neighbors were complaining. Invited the cops to have a drink They agreed. Big glasses of Slivovitz. HG’s cousin proposed a toast: “To Ireland, a great land.” More Slivovitz and the cops joined in the next toast, shouting with the family, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

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§ 2 Responses to They Tried To Kill Us. They Failed. So, Let’s Eat A Lot And Get Drunk."

  • David Henley says:

    What a great story. The Irish cops are the indispensable flourish. Could have been my relatives. With your permission, I have snagged the cartoon. I’m also sending this on to friends in Tucson and Staten Island.

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