Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Remembering Pesach in the Lower East Side
by Sudy Rosengarten

On Pesach, we went to Zeida Duvid for the Seder. The long hall that led into the narrow dining-room looked somewhat less severe in candlelight. and in the dark, we couldn't see the gloomy backyard, with sagging lines of faded laundry, rusting fire-escapes and hunch-backed alley-cats screeching and bellowing like mourning women.

Though Zeida Duvid patted my head, his patriarchal figure forever intimidated me. Maybe that was because Mama made me hide around the corner whenever I ate ice-cream, lest he find me indulging in such luxuries; of the cursed promised land, that the struggling misplaced immigrant couldn't and wouldn't make peace with.

But on Pesach night, peace reigned. Babika would smile unenthusiastically and kiss each of us with a weary sigh, hardly able to hide her exhaustion after preparing for the holiday. The house had been rubbed and scrubbed for Passover and Mamma warned us beforehand not to dare touch, look, or even breathe, if we could help it. But we did, anyway. When Babika wasn't looking; she was forever fussing in the kitchen, we went through all the bureau drawers in her musty- smelling bedroom; and tried on all of her funny blossom- print, lace-bordered night-caps. As all their immigrant neighbors in the overcrowded slum, Zeida and Babika also lived in poverty, But at the Seder, we all felt like kings. The table was covered with a white damask cloth, and red wine sparkled in a cut-crystal bottle. The table was set with the finest china and silver; each piece longed for and saved for from the day they'd emigrated to di goldene land, in search of a better life.

There were always beggars at the table. They had nowhere else to go, and Zeida Duvid, as shammos in the She'aris Yisroel shul, and the last to leave, would bring them home with him after locking up. Pappa was very uneasy whenever we visited his parents and was always very respectful in his father's presence. He would keep looking at us with warning glances, lest we misbehave. For surely, that would start a round of discussion on 'the spoiled American child'. But though it was the children they talked about, it was the wives that they really meant.

For most Orthodox immigrant families, the tragedy was that their children were marrying Americans and were slowly discarding age-old Tradition. Although that was not the case with Mama, her sin was that she was of Galician lineage and not Hungarian, which, in those years,was enough to make her unacceptable in Papa's family. But, on Pesach, all that was forgiven and the spirit of freedom and generosity prevailed.

Though I might have longed to sleep, with the red wine of Kiddush surging through my body in an almost frightening force, the mystical aura of the Seder kept me awake. The Seder night was something no child would miss — with its traditional chant of the Kiddush, the Four Questions, the explanations of each symbol and custom, and the ever- excitement of stealing the Afikomen which included the prize offerred for its return . . .

After the Seder, we'd walk back home. In some houses that we passed, the holiday candles still burned, in others we could see families still gathered round the Seder table. In one house, the doors had been thrown wide open, and voices shouted into the stillness of night, "Sh'foch chamos'cha al hagoyim asher lo yedo'ucha." How determined they seemed that the messenger of Peace already come to proclaim redemption for downtrodden Jews.

And then back home. Up a ricketty staircase, past the toilet in the hall that the tenants on the floor had to share with the homeless strays who wandered in; and into our own happy haven, which was doubly blessed because it was to the front and on the sunny side of the street. And though, when we opened the door, the first thing that hit us was the ugly black pot-belly stove that took up most of the space in the kitchen., we turned our eyes to the window, instead, to Mama's freshly starched and ironed white organza curtains, and rejoiced that our home was no less beautiful than a king's palace.

Mama's holiday candles still burnt, though the fire in the stove had already gone out. And as we said our bedtime prayers, she reminded us to kiss the mezuza, which we could only reach standing tiptoe by the doorpost. Then, hand touching the holy box, we'd call out, real loud and in deep concentration: "Shulum oif di ganze velt. Peace upon the whole world."


"A refua shlayma, a speedy recovery for all those who are sick."


And lastly, "Leshono habo'o biYerusholayim: Next year in Jerusalem!"

Kiss Kiss Kiss

Such are the memories that I love to share, because, though filled with strife and poverty, they have enriched my life.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.