| Family First Serial |

Fallout: Chapter 16

“So Mama, we got to talking with Marjorie on the subway,” he began, “and would you believe she doesn’t have a place for the Sedorim?”


March 1964

IF baking without flour was strange, if searching for crumbs in children’s pockets was weird, things in the Levine house now seemed to be just plain crazy.

First, there was Ruchele. The little girl walked into the kitchen holding a bright-red plastic bucket and a green shovel. “It’s for Pesach,” she confided to Marjorie, who was putting the final touches on some interestingly shaped coconut confections called macaroons.

What now? she thought. Do these people dump the bread into buckets?

Mutty wandered in, looking for a cup of coffee. Moments later Artie followed him, hugging a large brown bag to his chest. “I got the stuff, Mut,” he said.

“Be careful with it,” Mutty answered.

“Of course.”

Marjorie had had enough. She turned away from the oven. “What in the world is going on?” she demanded.

Mutty, drinking from his favorite Pesach cup, looked at her curiously. “What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about? What’s the big secret in the bag? And what’s with the bucket that Ruchele keeps showing me?”


“Plastic red bucket that she said is for Pesach. What’s Jewish law have to say about that?”

The two young men looked at each and burst out laughing. “It’s not Jewish law,” Artie said.

“More like Levine family law,” Mutty added.

Puzzlement and curiosity mixed with a flash of anger: Are they laughing at me?

“Would someone please tell me what is going on?” Her voice came out strident and edgy.

“Stay cool,” Artie told her, grabbing a macaroon from the counter. “It started years ago. Dad wanted us to go on a family vacation before Pesach. He said we worked hard and were stressed and deserved it.”

Mutty took up the narrative. “Mama said, ‘No way, Jose,’ there was too much to do. So they compromised….”

Annie came in, walking slowly, and joined the conversation. “I didn’t exactly put it in those words, Marjorie, but we decided that the day before bedikas chometz—”

“That’s when we search to make sure all the chometz is out of the house,” Artie interjected.

“That’s right. On that day, we all take the afternoon off and go to the beach near the hotel. And I guess Ruchele thinks filling her pail with sand is part of Pesach. It’s become a family tradition.”

A family tradition. Wow.

“And what’s in the bag?”

The three of them grinned. “This is starvation time,” Artie explained. “Can’t have bread in the house. Can’t eat matzah until the holiday starts. There’s great food,” he nodded a tribute toward Marjorie, “but it’s for Passover. So we came up with this idea. We go to the backyard, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and have a picnic on the beach.”

“Yeah, nothing like the taste of sand and peanut butter mixed together,” Mutty added. “So that’s what’s in the bag — a loaf of rye bread, a jar of peanut butter and another of jelly, and one last chometzdig knife.”

“We have a lot of fun,” Artie said. “Why don’t you come, too? You must be sick of standing in front of a stove all day.”

“The kids and my parents go by car,” Mutty explained, “and me and Artie take the train. Plenty of room for you, too.” He grinned.

The beach was a place Marjorie went with friends to get a great tan and maybe cool off a little in the summer’s heat. But in the winter? And as a family outing?


But kind of groovy, too.

IT was two days before Pesach and Moe Freed had so much to do. Though the number of boarders in the hotel had dwindled considerably, there were still plenty of hungry mouths to feed. Mrs. Schwartz had been overwhelmed, until Moe brought in some extra help.

And that extra help had to be paid.

And the bill from the matzah factory had to be paid.

And the utilities, the property tax, the butcher and greengrocer, and heaven knows who else.

All waiting to be paid.

He held the small blue-covered bankbook in his hand, staring into it as if that might change the dismal numbers stamped inside.

A thought — both familiar and unwelcome — flashed through his head: How much longer can this go on?

Yeruchum Freed walked into the room, a small smile on his face. He put his hand on Moe’s shoulder in a rare gesture of affection. “So, Moishe Baruch, we’ll be together again for Pesach. It’s been a long time.”

“Yes, Papa. More than 20 years.”

“You know,” Yeruchum said, his voice low but steady, “I’ve been in this hotel a long time. A lot of Sedorim, a lot of memories.”  He sat down gingerly on a rickety folding chair.

Moe quietly closed the bankbook and put it on his desk. He gazed at his father. Unusual: Papa  was clearly in a reminiscent mood.

“I can remember you squeaking out Mah Nishtanah, standing on a chair in front of all the boarders. You were never shy.”

Moe laughed. “No, shy isn’t the word you’d use for me.”

“And those Sedorim that we had, in the years after the war. The survivors’ faces as they said Vehi She’amdah or Shefoch Chamaschah. The tears they wept when they remembered their own children, Hashem yikom damam, saying Mah Nishtanah before the Churban….”

He gave himself a little shake, as if to bring himself back into the present. “And what about you, Moishe Baruch?”

“What about me?”

“Are you happy here, running the hotel?”

Easy question. “Between the hotel, Burton’s publicity ideas, and trying to make some progress on another novel, I’m keeping busy.”

“I didn’t ask if you were busy, Moishe Baruch. I asked if you were happy.”

Happy? Was he happy?

A long, uneasy pause. “I guess… I’m content.”

Unexpectedly, Yeruchum changed the subject. “I’m sorry I never got to meet your wife.”

Moe raised an eyebrow; where was this conversation going?

“Rob? I think you would have liked her, Papa. She was authentic, always looking for the truth.”

“I’m sure. Moishe Baruch, have you ever—”

The sentence remained unfinished, as Juanita, whom Moe had brought in to help keep the kitchen clean, burst in.

“Mister Freed, the sink’s all stopped up and making a mess on the floor!”

The bankbook — and Papa’s question — would have to wait. With a sigh, Moe followed the cleaning woman out, ready to deal with still another hotel crisis.


itting in the beach chair that Abe had insisted on bringing for her, Annie took a deep breath of the crisp, sea air: heaven, with a pinch of salt. She felt wrapped in a contentment almost as palpable as the beach blanket Mutty had placed around her knees.

She watched as the family spread the beach towels on the sand. Marjorie had added cut vegetables to the lunch bag and had even snuck some of the Pesach cookies into it, and the family feasted on sandwiches and cucumbers and macaroons. Annie’s boys — Artie, Mutty, and the twins — wolfed everything down with endless pre-Pesach appetites.

Marjorie had put away the last remnants of lunch and was helping Ruchele build a sand castle when Artie and Mutty approached Annie. She recognized the look on Artie’s face, she’d seen it many times before: he was going to ask her for something, and wasn’t quite sure how she’d react.

“So Mama, we got to talking with Marjorie on the subway,” he began, “and would you believe she doesn’t have a place for the Sedorim?”

“Yeah,” Mutty broke in. “She said her parents go to some friends of theirs and…”

“…and it’s so weird, they play the guitar and talk about civil rights and eat some matzah, but there’s bread in the kitchen. And the Haggadah is read in English, and they skip parts to get to the food faster. Crazy, no?”

Annie listened carefully, without responding. But somehow, she felt that blanket of contentment slipping away, vanishing into the grains of sand beneath her.

Mutty continued. “And I asked her what about the hotel, and she told me that Mrs. Schwartz had invited her, and Uncle Moe and Zeideh did, too, but she doesn’t want to go.”

Annie spoke for the first time. “Why not?”

Artie hesitated. “Well, she told us that she hasn’t spent Shabbos in the hotel since that first time. Most weekends she goes to friends. She said the boarders are nice, but it’s just kind of boring there, mostly old people. And when she found out that there are two days of Pesach, that was a bummer and she can’t handle it. So we thought—”

“Let’s invite her to us,” Mutty interjected eagerly.  “She can stay next door, at the Weingartens, you know they have only girls left at home, and with two older kids married they probably have room for her and…”

Artie finished up the two-way conversation. “…and she’ll have a normal family Pesach.”

A normal family Pesach. Now that she was feeling better, Annie had been so looking forward to the Sedorim with her immediate family. Sedorim at the hotel were nice, with her father leading them, plenty of divrei Torah and singing, but still… she couldn’t sometimes help but wish she was in her own home, with her husband sitting in his kittel at the head of the table, telling over the story to their children. And now….

The words of the Haggadah flew threw her head. Kol dichfin yeisei v’yeichol — Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat. Kol ditzrich yeisei v’yifsach — Whoever is needy, let him come and celebrate Pesach!

She suppressed a little sigh and smiled. “Of course she can come,” she said, watching as Marjorie and Ruchele triumphantly finished their castle made of sand.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 860)

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