The Passover Guest
"I have a Passover guest for you, Reb Yoneh, such a guest as you never
had since you became a householder."
"What sort is he?"
"A real Oriental citron!"
"What does that mean?"
"It means a 'silken Jew,' a personage of distinction. The only thing
against him is--he doesn't speak our language."
t does he speak, then?"
"Is he from Jerusalem?"
"I don't know where he comes from, but his words are full of a's."
Such was the conversation that took place between my father and the
beadle, a day before Passover, and I was wild with curiosity to see the
"guest" who didn't understand Yiddish, and who talked with a's. I had
already noticed, in synagogue, a strange-looking individual, in a fur
cap, and a Turkish robe striped blue, red, and yellow. We boys crowded
round him on all sides, and stared, and then caught it hot from the
beadle, who said children had no business "to creep into a stranger's
face" like that. Prayers over, everyone greeted the stranger, and wished
him a happy Passover, and he, with a sweet smile on his red cheeks set
in a round grey beard, replied to each one, "Shalom! Shalom!" instead of
our Sholom. This "Shalom! Shalom!" of his sent us boys into fits of
laughter. The beadle grew very angry, and pursued us with slaps. We
eluded him, and stole deviously back to the stranger, listened to his
"Shalom! Shalom!" exploded with laughter, and escaped anew from the
hands of the beadle.
I am puffed up with pride as I follow my father and his guest to our
house, and feel how all my comrades envy me. They stand looking after
us, and every now and then I turn my head, and put out my tongue at
them. The walk home is silent. When we arrive, my father greets my
mother with "a happy Passover!" and the guest nods his head so that his
fur cap shakes. "Shalom! Shalom!" he says. I think of my comrades, and
hide my head under the table, not to burst out laughing. But I shoot
continual glances at the guest, and his appearance pleases me; I like
his Turkish robe, striped yellow, red, and blue, his fresh, red cheeks
set in a curly grey beard, his beautiful black eyes that look out so
pleasantly from beneath his bushy eyebrows. And I see that my father is
pleased with him, too, that he is delighted with him. My mother looks at
him as though he were something more than a man, and no one speaks to
him but my father, who offers him the cushioned reclining-seat at table.
Mother is taken up with the preparations for the Passover meal, and
Rikel the maid is helping her. It is only when the time comes for saying
Kiddush that my father and the guest hold a Hebrew conversation. I am
proud to find that I understand nearly every word of it. Here it is in
My father: "Nu?" (That means, "Won't you please say Kiddush?")
The guest: "Nu-nu!" (meaning, "Say it rather yourself!")
My father: "Nu-O?" ("Why not you?")
The guest: "O-nu?" ("Why should I?")
My father: "I-O!" ("You first!")
The guest: "O-ai!" ("You first!")
My father: "E-o-i!" ("I beg of you to say it!")
The guest: "Ai-o-e!" ("I beg of you!")
My father: "Ai-e-o-nu?" ("Why should you refuse?")
The guest: "Oi-o-e-nu-nu!" ("If you insist, then I must.")
And the guest took the cup of wine from my father's hand, and recited a
Kiddush. But what a Kiddush! A Kiddush such as we had never heard
before, and shall never hear again. First, the Hebrew--all a's.
Secondly, the voice, which seemed to come, not out of his beard, but out
of the striped Turkish robe. I thought of my comrades, how they would
have laughed, what slaps would have rained down, had they been present
at that Kiddush.
Being alone, I was able to contain myself. I asked my father the Four
Questions, and we all recited the Haggadah together. And I was elated to
think that such a guest was ours, and no one else's.
Our sage who wrote that one should not talk at meals (may he forgive me
for saying so!) did not know Jewish life. When shall a Jew find time to
talk, if not during a meal? Especially at Passover, when there is so
much to say before the meal and after it. Rikel the maid handed the
water, we washed our hands, repeated the Benediction, mother helped us
to fish, and my father turned up his sleeves, and started a long Hebrew
talk with the guest. He began with the first question one Jew asks
"What is your name?"
To which the guest replied all in a's and all in one breath:
"Ayak Bakar Gashal Damas Hanoch Vassam Za'an Chafaf Tatzatz."
My father remained with his fork in the air, staring in amazement at the
possessor of so long a name. I coughed and looked under the table, and
my mother said, "Favele, you should be careful eating fish, or you might
be choked with a bone," while she gazed at our guest with awe. She
appeared overcome by his name, although unable to understand it. My
father, who understood, thought it necessary to explain it to her.
"You see, Ayak Bakar, that is our Alef-Bes inverted. It is apparently
their custom to name people after the alphabet."
"Alef-Bes! Alef-Bes!" repeated the guest with the sweet smile on his red
cheeks, and his beautiful black eyes rested on us all, including Rikel
the maid, in the most friendly fashion.
Having learnt his name, my father was anxious to know whence, from what
land, he came. I understood this from the names of countries and towns
which I caught, and from what my father translated for my mother,
giving her a Yiddish version of nearly every phrase. And my mother was
quite overcome by every single thing she heard, and Rikel the maid was
overcome likewise. And no wonder! It is not every day that a person
comes from perhaps two thousand miles away, from a land only to be
reached across seven seas and a desert, the desert journey alone
requiring forty days and nights. And when you get near to the land, you
have to climb a mountain of which the top reaches into the clouds, and
this is covered with ice, and dreadful winds blow there, so that there
is peril of death! But once the mountain is safely climbed, and the land
is reached, one beholds a terrestrial Eden. Spices, cloves, herbs, and
every kind of fruit--apples, pears, and oranges, grapes, dates, and
olives, nuts and quantities of figs. And the houses there are all built
of deal, and roofed with silver, the furniture is gold (here the guest
cast a look at our silver cups, spoons, forks, and knives), and
brilliants, pearls, and diamonds bestrew the roads, and no one cares to
take the trouble of picking them up, they are of no value there. (He was
looking at my mother's diamond ear-rings, and at the pearls round her
"You hear that?" my father asked her, with a happy face.
"I hear," she answered, and added: "Why don't they bring some over here?
They could make money by it. Ask him that, Yoneh!"
My father did so, and translated the answer for my mother's benefit:
"You see, when you arrive there, you may take what you like, but when
you leave the country, you must leave everything in it behind, too, and
if they shake out of you no matter what, you are done for."
"What do you mean?" questioned my mother, terrified.
"I mean, they either hang you on a tree, or they stone you with stones."
The more tales our guest told us, the more thrilling they became, and
just as we were finishing the dumplings and taking another sip or two of
wine, my father inquired to whom the country belonged. Was there a king
there? And he was soon translating, with great delight, the following
"The country belongs to the Jews who live there, and who are called
Sefardim. And they have a king, also a Jew, and a very pious one, who
wears a fur cap, and who is called Joseph ben Joseph. He is the high
priest of the Sefardim, and drives out in a gilded carriage, drawn by
six fiery horses. And when he enters the synagogue, the Levites meet him
"There are Levites who sing in your synagogue?" asked my father,
wondering, and the answer caused his face to shine with joy.
"What do you think?" he said to my mother. "Our guest tells me that in
his country there is a temple, with priests and Levites and an organ."
"Well, and an altar?" questioned my mother, and my father told her:
"He says they have an altar, and sacrifices, he says, and golden
vessels--everything just as we used to have it in Jerusalem."
And with these words my father sighs deeply, and my mother, as she looks
at him, sighs also, and I cannot understand the reason. Surely we should
be proud and glad to think we have such a land, ruled over by a Jewish
king and high priest, a land with Levites and an organ, with an altar
and sacrifices--and bright, sweet thoughts enfold me, and carry me away
as on wings to that happy Jewish land where the houses are of pine-wood
and roofed with silver, where the furniture is gold, and diamonds and
pearls lie scattered in the street. And I feel sure, were I really
there, I should know what to do--I should know how to hide things--they
would shake nothing out of me. I should certainly bring home a lovely
present for my mother, diamond ear-rings and several pearl necklaces. I
look at the one mother is wearing, at her ear-rings, and I feel a great
desire to be in that country. And it occurs to me, that after Passover I
will travel there with our guest, secretly, no one shall know. I will
only speak of it to our guest, open my heart to him, tell him the whole
truth, and beg him to take me there, if only for a little while. He will
certainly do so, he is a very kind and approachable person, he looks at
every one, even at Rikel the maid, in such a friendly, such a very
"So I think, and it seems to me, as I watch our guest, that he has read
my thoughts, and that his beautiful black eyes say to me:
"Keep it dark, little friend, wait till after Passover, then we shall
I dreamt all night long. I dreamt of a desert, a temple, a high priest,
and a tall mountain. I climb the mountain. Diamonds and pearls grow on
the trees, and my comrades sit on the boughs, and shake the jewels down
onto the ground, whole showers of them, and I stand and gather them, and
stuff them into my pockets, and, strange to say, however many I stuff
in, there is still room! I stuff and stuff, and still there is room! I
put my hand into my pocket, and draw out--not pearls and brilliants, but
fruits of all kinds--apples, pears, oranges, olives, dates, nuts, and
figs. This makes me very unhappy, and I toss from side to side. Then I
dream of the temple, I hear the priests chant, and the Levites sing, and
the organ play. I want to go inside and I cannot--Rikel the maid has
hold of me, and will not let me go. I beg of her and scream and cry, and
again I am very unhappy, and toss from side to side. I wake--and see my
father and mother standing there, half dressed, both pale, my father
hanging his head, and my mother wringing her hands, and with her soft
eyes full of tears. I feel at once that something has gone very wrong,
very wrong indeed, but my childish head is incapable of imagining the
greatness of the disaster.
The fact is this: our guest from beyond the desert and the seven seas
has disappeared, and a lot of things have disappeared with him: all the
silver wine-cups, all the silver spoons, knives, and forks; all my
mother's ornaments, all the money that happened to be in the house, and
also Rikel the maid!
A pang goes through my heart. Not on account of the silver cups, the
silver spoons, knives, and forks that have vanished; not on account of
mother's ornaments or of the money, still less on account of Rikel the
maid, a good riddance! But because of the happy, happy land whose roads
were strewn with brilliants, pearls, and diamonds; because of the temple
with the priests, the Levites, and the organ; because of the altar and
the sacrifices; because of all the other beautiful things that have been
taken from me, taken, taken, taken!
I turn my face to the wall, and cry quietly to myself.