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Pesach 2002

 Pesach and Baruch Hashem the family was together. Watching Shlomo at the head of the long table in their dining room and listening to the babble of cheerful voices, Esther was satisfied with the small gathering – her children, her mother-in-law and guests. It was good to be celebrating this festival of freedom in Israel.

Shlomo made his traditional declaration, "On Pesach we commemorate our delivery from slavery in Egypt. We retell the story of our people, we remind ourselves that in every generation each man must regard himself as if he himself had gone forth from Egypt."

"Alas," he said sadly, addressing his son Noam and daughter-in-law Orli who lived in a village outside Israel's accepted borders, "we need no such reminder." They exchanged rueful looks, "but tonight, let us be encouraged and reminded how Hashem's great miracles saved us from our enemies."

"Amen," said Esther, thinking: "Our children, our pioneers … G-d's warriors!" She observed Orli, a pretty young woman with an olive complexion and fine Yemenite features, noticing that she'd put on weight. Guessing that Orli might be pregnant, she felt a tremble of joy tinged with anxiety as worries about drive-by murders and terrorist incursions intruded on the idyllic scene in her mind.

The table, set in damask with Pesach crockery and gleaming silverware, was already in disarray, the first glass of wine having been spilled by Uriel, her youngest. The stain was now smothered in salt by her mother-in-law, Bella, which made it worse. "Mazaltov, mazaltov!" she sang, all smiles.

The four young children, who'd been practicing for weeks, asked the four questions. Prompting their young son, Boris and Luba Urinovsky beamed. They'd only come on aliya a few years earlier and already Avigdor was like every other Israeli boy.

The Urinovsky's felt a little out of their depth with the Fried family. It was hard to find common ground and communication was stilted. Boris, a computer technician, had secured a good job with a hi-tech company, but Luba, a pretty blonde who looked pale and washed out, worked as a cleaner for a local bank – a far cry from what she'd been doing in Russia before making aliyah to Israel. They had little in common with Shlomo, an established doctor, and Esther, an occupational therapist.

As Shlomo chanted the list of plagues that befell the Egyptians, the children joined him in a blood-thirsty chorus, "Blood, frogs, vermin, disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness," reaching a crescendo with "slaughter of the firstborn!"

"But the Lord spared the Jewish children. How? Batya?"

"Daddy, I'm not a child," she retorted. "ask one of them!"

Avigdor yelled, "I know, I know! They painted a mark on the doorpost so the Angel of Death would pass them!"

"Give the man a handshake!" beamed Shlomo, waggling the boy's hand. "Yes, Hashem did all these things to make the Egyptians let our people go."

Shlomo introduced the next section: "Dayenu – who can say why we sing Dayenu?"

"I know, Abba," mumbled Uriel shyly, "'cos Hashem did so many miracles to help us … and even one would have been enough!"

"Good boy," Shlomo nodded. "Another Yeshiva bocher in the family!" he indicated proudly to his mother, who simply looked bewildered. "Who can say how many miracles there were?"

"Ten," offered Avigdor.

"We learned it in school!" yelled Uriel, bonking him on the head.

"Rabbi Akiva said two hundred and fifty," said Noam.

Luba wondered why they had to argue every little point while Arieh, who was to read next, silently rehearsed his portion.

Batya, the Fried's elder daughter, drummed restlessly on the table. "Nu, Abba! We're hungry!"

Looking at her sternly, Shlomo said, "Come, Batya, sing, Dya-dayenu." Noam joined in with Orli. "Sing children, sing!" Shlomo said. "Da…yenu!"

"Abba!" Batya sulked, "Can't we sing the chorus only every other verse?"

Luba sipped her wine wondering whether Shlomo intended to read every word. She was hungry and sleepy. She was dying to taste the gefilte fish that smelled so good. Everyone grimaced as they tasted the bitter herbs and then licked their lips at the sweet Haroseth, a reminder of the bricks without straw the Egyptians had forced them to make.

Finally, after Shlomo, with a sleight of hand perfected after years of practice, hid the afikomen they could eat. And what a meal it was!

Esther and Batya passed out bowls of grated egg with salt water. In the kitchen she admonished her daughter, "Why didn't you sing along with Abba?"

Then there was chicken soup with kneidlach that melted in your mouth. "Eat… eat!" Shlomo licked his lips. "Esther, you've surpassed yourself."

Turning to Arieh he asked, "So – how are things with you?"

"Beseder, beseder," Arieh replied. "Baruch Hashem."

Shlomo wanted to laugh at Arieh's Baruch Hashems. He said: "You Russians do all the work in the supermarkets, in the hospitals too. Sometimes I wonder where all the Israelis have gone."

Arieh nodded, uncertain whether this was a compliment.

Luba called, "Avigdor …" Offering him a plate of roast chicken and sweet vegetables, she remarked to Bella, "Geshmak! – tasty, no?"

Shlomo continued: "Are you happy in Israel?"

Arieh looked ambivalent. "In Russia now … much better. Glasnost." He raised his glass and swallowed the wine. "Here, no peace."

Shlomo nodded. "You from Chernobyl? Very bad place …"

"Da," Arieh agreed. "Many sick." He sighed.

"More wine, Luba?"

"Spasiba," she replied, holding out her glass to Shlomo but thinking she'd better stop before she got a headache. She mumbled something inaudible.

Arieh said, "Luba says life is hard. No good friends. Not good work. Cleaning! In Russia she's a bookkeeper - accountant!" He laughed deeply, holding out his glass. "You got vodka?"

"Yes," Shlomo fetched a bottle and passed it to Arieh. "Help yourself!"

"Spasiba!" He said, smiling.

Relaxed and pleasantly comfortable, Shlomo laughed: "We still have more wine to drink!"

When the meal was finished Batya said, "I'm going outside, Ima!" As she walked to the door she giggled, "I'll let Eliyahu in on my way back."

Esther exchanged an awkward smile with Luba. Passing a dish of nuts around, she remarked to Shlomo, "Your mother never touched her food."

"Why don't you eat, Ma?" he asked.

Just then Batya burst in, her face in shock. "There was a bomb," she shouted hysterically. "A bomb … in Netanya."

Electrified, Arieh shouted something to Luba who jumped up clutching her head.

"The Park Hotel!" Batya shouted. "I'm putting on the news!"

She ran to the television and, without asking, turned it on. In deference to their guests Shlomo and Esther nodded.

Splashed across the monitor were chaotic scenes of people running, walls blown away and furnishings blown to fragments – blood everywhere.

"Oh G-d," murmured Esther, "not again!"

"Killed?" gasped Luba..

"Thirty …ooh, many wounded," said Shlomo, his voice thick with pain.

"Russians!" Luba exploded angrily.

"What?" Esther asked, reaching out to her, "Someone you know?"

Shrugging, Arieh said, "We know many people who went to the Park for Seder." He shook his head, "If we hadn't come here we would have been there." He turned to Shlomo and demanded fiercely: "Freedom, you say! On Pesach we remember how G-d delivered us from enemy? So tell me, when will G-d deliver us from this terrorist enemy? When will we in Israel be free?"

 

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Tuesday, 28 September 2021

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