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. “You couldn’t at least bring home a Jewish schvartz? We have those!”

“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. If goyim schvitzed it would prove that they’re as human as Jews.”

“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.


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