Sunday, 29 September 2013

Guess Who’s Coming to Seder? By Naomi Elana Zener

The table was set impeccably. The twelve-person setting of the one hundred and ten year old bone china, which had traveled the Atlantic, originating from a turn-of-the-century pre-war European shtetl and had been smuggled successfully through the Holocaust via an underground belongings railroad, had transcended the hands of three generations of Yiddleberg women, and sat now glistening on the Passover Seder table. Rona Yiddleberg, the current guardian of the precious dinnerware, passed on to her by her mother, Gertrude, took stock of the scene to ensure that every plate was perfectly laid out and that no one was missing a gefilte fish fork.

This Passover, unlike any other, had to be perfect, for it would be no ordinary Seder. Ma nishta na ha laila ha zeh? What made this night special from every other night? The sheer fact that Rona’s only daughter, Ellen, thirty and still single, despite being a gorgeous, well-traveled, well-heeled, oenophile and surgeon, was finally bringing home a man to meet her family. And, this was no ordinary man, but one as elusive as Eliyahu himself, as this man had supposedly proposed marriage to Ellen, who happily had accepted. Everyone from Rona’s husband, Harold, two married sons (each of whom had been married for several years and had produced one heir a piece), Rona’s sister, Chana, and Gertrude, were beyond thrilled to meet their new soon-to-be-family member, notwithstanding the fact that they knew very little about him. In fact, beyond knowing that his name was Charles and that he was a thirty-seven year old radiologist, who had never been married and did not bring any child-laden baggage with him into the relationship to impose on Ellen, they had less information about their daughter’s new fiancé than they did on Charles Manson.

At seven o’clock sharp, the Yiddleberg family was seated around the dining table resisting all temptation to start to eat without their honoured guests, when Rona’s razor-sharp ears heard a turn of the deadbolt lock in the front door. Instinctively, Rona catapulted herself over Gertrude, seated in her motorized wheelchair, to open the door to greet her daughter and future son-in-law before they could let themselves in the house. Rona’s bright, elated smile that had met Ellen’s gaze quickly disappeared as soon as Rona was forced to crane her neck back in order to look seven feet up towards the heavens to meet Charles’ eyes. Standing before Rona was a hulking blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white-as-Wonder Bread man, who looked like he was hatched in an Aryan village in the German Alps. All that was missing to complete the picture was if he had been wearing leiderhosen.

“Mom, happy Passover!” Ellen sang hugging her mother tightly. “This is my fiancé, Chip.”

“As in potato?” Rona retorted without greeting Chip. “I thought you said his name was Charles?”

“It is indeed Charles. Charles McFurley, but everyone calls me Chip. It is a pleasure to meet you and to be in your home for such a special occasion,” Chip replied with a smile. “Should I call you Mrs. Yiddleberg, or Mom?”

“Call her Rona,” Ellen advised.

“Call me Mrs. Yiddleberg, Mr. McFurry,” Rona instructed tersely.

“It’s actually McFurley, but everyone makes the same mistake,” Chip laughed casually. “And, please call me Chip.”

“Won’t you come in Chip,” Rona offered. “Please have a seat at our Jewish Seder table with my family.”

Rona shot everyone an instructional look to shut their gaping wide mouths.

“Everyone, this is Ellen’s fiancé, Chip McFurley,” Rona explained. “Chip, this is my husband Harold, two sons, Simon and Isaac and their wives, Ruth and Rebecca and their children, Noah and Miriam. To my left are my sister, Chana, and my mother Gertrude. Gertrude is a Holocaust survivor.

“Nice to meet you McFry,” Simon said.

“It’s McFurley,” Chip corrected.

“McFry, McFurry, McGoy, it’s all the same thing in this house,” Simon said laughing, as Ellen shot him a death stare.

“Please, Chip, sit by me,” Harold offered.

Gertrude stared furtively at Chip, unable to shake her look of horror. For Gertrude, Chip too closely resembled the Nazi guards who had held her captive in Buchenwald.

“He’s not a Jew!” Gertrude told Rona in a thick Eastern European accent, wagging her arthritis-ridden finger at Chip.

“Thanks for stating the obvious Bubbie,” Isaac said.

“Why is Ellen with a goy?” Gertrude asked. “I thought you said she was bringing home the man she’s going to marry?”

“This is the man that she is going to marry,” Rona explained softly.

“You gonna let her marry him? A Nazi?” Gertrude exclaimed.

“He’s not a Nazi, Bubbie!” Ellen stated loudly, giving Chip a sympathetic look. “He’s not even German.”

“Oh, so that makes it ok? He’s not a Jew. This is not ok!” Gertrude explained. 

“I’m sorry, Chip,” Ellen offered. “Our grandmother doesn’t have all of her marbles anymore.”

“You know what makes tonight different from all other nights?” Simon asked trying to break the tension with some comic relief. “Every male at this table, except for one, no longer has his foreskin.”

“Actuallly, my parents believed in circumcision, so I guess I am just as Jewish as you boys,” Chip laughed to no reaction from the table.

“So, as you know, Chip and I met at a medical conference on interventional radiology six months ago and it’s been a whirlwind,” Ellen chimed in trying to change the subject. “We were thinking of having the wedding at the end of August.”

“You can’t marry him! He’s a goy!” Gertrude shouted. “This is bullshit! My family did not die at the hands of his people so my granddaughter could marry a Nazi bastard!”

“He’s not a Nazi, Ma!” Harold shouted.

“Bubbie, stop it!” Ellen cried. “Mother, please do something.”

Rona remained dumbfounded and seated quietly. Ruth and Rebecca skulked off, so as to avoid being dragged into a Yiddleberg family fight, under the guise of having to breastfeed their four and six year olds.  Harold started to eat out of nervousness, while Gertrude muttered in Yiddish about having to sit shiva for her granddaughter.

“Ellen, she’s from another generation,” Chip offered. “I am not offended. Gertrude, I AM NOT A GERMAN, so no one in my family killed anyone in yours.”

“Typical defensive statement,” Chana announced.

“Excuse me, Aunt Chana?” Ellen inquired. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“So he’s not a German. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have anti-Semite blood in his ancestry,” Chana explained while holding Gertrude’s hand in solidarity. “And, his comment was such an unsympathetic remark to make to an old woman.”

“I did not mean to be unsympathetic,” Chip said defensively. “I thought I was actually quite empathic.”

“Of course you did, Chip,” Chana smiled. “A goy’s version of sympathy is what a Jew knows to be veiled disdain.”

“I think that this hazing should stop,” Harold said almost choking on his matzoh recognizing that Ellen was dying of embarrassment while simultaneously Rona was likely dying from a stroke.

“Are you telling me that I can’t speak my mind in my sister’s house,” Chana shouted. “If this guy can’t take the heat, he is not made of much. So, he sweats a little? Big deal!”

“Goyim don’t sweat, Aunt Chana,” Simon said. “They’re like seagulls who don’t fart.”

“Chip, I’m so sorry. I never expected my liberal family to be such racists,” Ellen sobbed getting up to leave pulling Chip by the arm. “None of you have to worry about any of the wedding details since you won’t be invited.”

“Please sit down,” Rona begged suddenly, awoken from her catatonic state upon realizing that she could lose her only daughter, and only child who gave her bragging rights at her B’Nai Brith womens’ group meetings and to her friends.

“Rona is right. Please sit and accept our most humble apology,” Harold added. “We’re not really racists. We just expected that our only daughter would marry within the religion and culture given the persecution we have experienced as Jews throughout history.”

Chip nodded, gracefully accepting Harold’s apology on behalf of the Yiddleberg family, and ushered Ellen back into her chair.

“Don’t worry about it,” Chip said nonchalantly as he forked a giant piece of gefilte fish with a meat fork and shoved it into his mouth, before the Haggadah had been read. “Ellen hasn’t met my extremely WASPy family yet. Trust me, when she walks through the door, they’ll check her for horns and throw pennies at her to see if she’ll pick them up. It will make tonight look like an episode of Saturday Night Live.”

© 2013. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Mock Parliament by Naomi Elana Zener

The school auditorium was generally reserved for plays, science fairs, talent shows and school-wide assemblies. However, given the elite nature of the dignitaries invited to observe Mrs. Smith’s grade two class’ mock parliament performance, the auditorium was booked for the occasion. The students’ parents sat proudly in the audience, starting ten rows back from the front, due to the reserved seating closest to the stage for the Members of Parliament, Senators, Leaders of the Opposition and even the Prime Minister, all of whom had rsvp’d for the event. Even members from every broadcast and paper media outlet had clamoured into the back of the auditorium to cover the presentation. Given the recent set of scandals that had rocked the Federal Government, the Prime Minister issued a dictate to his entire Conservative caucus, including elected and appointed officials, especially those headlined for the shame they brought on the house of Harper, that non-attendance was not an option.

“Thank you all for attending today’s off-site mock session of the House of Commons’ question and answer period. As you can see, assembled before you on the stage are my twenty-six grade two pupils who have been assigned the high profile roles of some of our esteemed national politicians seated before me in the audience, as part of their annual civics project. We have our very own stand-ins for the real Speaker of the House, Prime Minister, Leader of the Official Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal Party and select members of Parliament. The topics to be discussed today were selected by the students themselves to be reinterpreted by them to reflect concerns of seven year olds,” Mrs. Smith explained. “Without further ado, I give you our 2013 Canadian House of Commons.”

The Speaker of the House rose signaling the House to rise to sing the national anthem. No sooner than the final note had reverberated throughout the large hall, the Leader of the Opposition stood up on stage to ask the first question.

“Thank you Mr. Speaker. I’d like to start by asking our Prime Minister how he can say that his government supports fiscal restraint when his Senators’ expense reports show that they are spending their budgets on McDonalds’ Happy Meals and Leap Frog games at Toys R Us?” the Leader of the Opposition asked. “I don’t think that the Senators can say that Dora the Explorer figurines and Leap Frog programs are necessary office tools to help them run the country.”

The Conservative senators in the audience shifted uncomfortably in their seats, as chuckles were heard coming from the parents and other Liberal and NDP politicians in the crowd.

“Mr. Speaker, I’m sure that the NDP Members of Parliament and Senate appointees take work breaks and they play with all sorts of toys that help them do their jobs better,” the Prime Minister’s secretary retorted on the Prime Minister’s behalf. “As long as the Senators are getting their jobs done and they don’t spend more than the allowances given to them, then there is no problem.”

“As a follow up, Mr. Speaker, if spending only their allowances makes it ok to buy toys, then how come the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff had to give a Conservative senator a personal loan out of his own allowance so that the senator could pay back what he overspent at Toys R US?” the Leader of the Opposition queried.

“Mr. Speaker, I must advise that what the Chief of Staff chose to do on his own with his own personal allowance from his mommy and daddy, without the Prime Minister’s knowledge, is not something that the Prime Minister is responsible for,” the Prime Minister’s Secretary replied.

The NDP and Liberal members of the House jeered and heckled the Prime Minister’s Secretary’s answer.

“Perhaps the Senators should have bought toys at the Dollar Store instead of an expensive large toy store,” an NDP Member of Parliament shouted out.

“My mommy says that McDonalds is bad for you and has caused the obesity problem in children, so the Senators should be setting a better example and not eating there,” a Liberal backbencher cried out.

“Mr. Speaker, our Prime Minister would have the Canadian taxpayers believe that he did not know what his senators and staffers were doing with their taxpayer allowances, but that is a big fat fib. These senators were seen eating at Ottawa-area McDonalds with their Conservative friends and Members of Parliament where they played with their Happy Meal Smurfs instead of eating wholesome lunches they brought to the Senate from home,” the Leader of the Opposition called out.

“Mr. Speaker,” the Prime Minister said, “I’d like to yield my time to the Finance Minister to reply on my behalf.”

“Thank you Mr. Prime Minister,” the Finance Minister said. “Every Senator is allowed to spend a certain amount of their allowance every day on food, it’s called a per diem. So if they choose to use it to eat McNuggets instead of their peanut butter sandwich, even if they only bought their Happy Meal for the toy in the first place, that is their choice.”

The Conservative Members of Parliament clapped their hands on their desks cheering on the Finance Minister.

“Order in the House,” the Speaker demanded striking his gavel. “Now, I invite the Leader of the Liberal Party to ask his question, if he has one.”

“Thank you Mr. Speaker,” the Liberal Leader stated with an affected lisp. “I’d like to shift the Prime Minister’s focus to the recent Federal Court decision that said that the Conservatives did a very bad thing when they made prank calls to Canadians during the last election. Canadians do not like getting robo-prank calls made to their homes asking them if their refrigerators are running, only to be told to run after them.”

The real Prime Minister nervously tugged at his shirt collar. He noted that all of the parents were scowling at him, and both Mr. Muclair and Mr. Trudeau were smirking in his direction, realizing that the robocalls had not gone unnoticed by either the children or their parents.

“Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Prime Minister, I will answer the question,” the Defense Minister advised. “Although the Federal Court did say that the calls were wrong, no one would have changed their vote whether the calls were made or not. I think that the Liberal Leader is blowing this issue out of proportion because his head is in a Goldfish cloud.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, but if the Defense Minister could please explain what he is talking about, I would appreciate it,” the Liberal Leader asked.

“Well, the Liberal Leader recently admitted to the press and Canadians that he is a Goldfish user and we all know that they are full of preservatives and don’t let you think straight. Maybe he should put down the bag of Goldfish and eat an apple,” the Defense Minister advised.

“Boo! Boo!” jeered the NDP and Liberal Members of Parliament.

“Order!” the Speaker demanded. “Question and Answer period is drawing to a close. Does the Leader of the Opposition have any further questions for the government?”

“Yes, Mr. Speaker. The government has kept interest rates really low making it easy to buy our favourite toys, but it has caused the price of those toys to go through the roof, especially in the Thomas the Train and Barbie markets. Already very expensive, cost of Thomas the Train sets, Tidmouth Sheds replicas and Barbie’s Dream House have made it impossible for average allowances to keep up since they don’t gain any interest in our piggy banks,” the Leader of the Opposition stated.

“Here! Here!” shouted the Liberal and NDP Members of Parliament and parents in the audience, supporting the action of their counterparts on stage.

“The government’s low interest rate policy has allowed Canadian children to dig their way out of candy, video game and other toy debt, now forcing them to save up their pennies for things they really want. Every child should ask if they really need another Thomas steam engine or if Barbie needs another outfit for her next date with Ken,” the Finance Minister explained.

“Thank you,” the Speaker advised. “We have run out of time for today. I’d like to thank all of the Members of Parliament for their important questions and helpful answers. I officially declare that this Question and Answer session is closed.”

The students gathered at the front of the stage to take their bows. A sigh of relief from the politicians rose above the thunderous parental applause.

“Thank you so much for coming to help support and encourage our students in their civics studies,” Mrs. Smith stated. “I hope that every parent, politician and journalist here today will walk away from today recognizing that even our country’s youngest citizens have a solid grasp on what goes on politically and that they will keep you honest even when you think you’ve got them fooled.”

© 2013 Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.