The Passover Guest part 4

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 friendly way!

SoI think, and it seems to me, as I watch our guest, that he has read mythoughts, and that his beautiful black eyes say to me:

“Keepit dark, little friend, wait till after Passover, then we shall manage it!”


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.

Thefact is this: our guest from beyond the desert and the seven seas hasdisappeared, and a lot of things have disappeared with him: all the silverwine-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!

Apang goes through my heart. Not on account of the silver cups, the silverspoons, knives, and forks that have vanished; not on account of mother`sornaments or of the money, still less on account of Rikel the maid, a goodriddance! But because of the happy, happy land whose roads were strewn withbrilliants, pearls, and diamonds; because of the temple with the priests, theLevites, and the organ; because of the altar and the sacrifices; because of allthe other beautiful things that have been taken from me, taken, taken, taken!I turn my face to the wall, and cry quietly to

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The Passover Guest part 3

Having learned 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.

Kind of Fruit

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, 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 white neck.)

“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 reply:

“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 with songs.”

“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:

“Tarc says they have an altar, and sacrifices, he says, and golden vessels—everything just as we used to have it in Jerusalem.”

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The Passover Guest part 2

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 full.

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!” (“To« first!”)

My father: “£-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 another:

“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 Tat- zatz.”
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.

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The Passover Guest part 1

Sholom Aleichem (Sholorn Rabinovitch) (1859-1916)

Rabinovitch, known everywhere by his pseudonym, Sholom Aleichem, was born in Russia. He is one of the most beloved figures in all Yiddish literature. In common with nearly all his contemporaries, he excels in the description of the pathos and tragedy of his people, though he was frequently able, as in ‘The Passover Guest, to turn a tragic theme into a richly comic one.

The passover guest is quaintly humorous, though at the same time a bitter commentary on life. It is the artist`s way of describing the lot of the Jew in the modern world.

This story is reprinted from the volume, Yiddish Tales, translated by Helena Frank, copyright, 1912, by the Jewish Publication Society of America, by whose permission and that of the Sholom Aleichem Foundation it is here reprinted.

The passover guest

Uthave a Passover guest for you, Reb Yoneh, such a guest as you A 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.”

“What 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, every one greeted the stranger, and wished him a happy Passover, and he, with a sweet smile on his red cheeks set in a round gray 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 gray 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.

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