| Shul with a View |

Table Talk

I realized that before me sat a group of people with very similar peckels


Walking home from shul with my guests on Seder night, I noticed Larry lagging behind.

I allowed everyone to go ahead and positioned myself next to Larry.

“Everything all right?”

“Rabbi, can you do me a favor?”

“I hope so. What is it?”

“When you introduce me to everyone before the Seder, can you say, ‘This is Larry, my cousin from Atlanta who’s with me for Pesach?’ ”

Larry and I aren’t related. He had moved to Passaic from Baltimore four years ago after his divorce. He was a quiet mind-your-own-business type and did his best to earn a living, learn Torah, and daven in shul. Larry wanted to remarry, but he didn’t wear this information on his sleeve.

There was no time for me to ask Larry why he wanted to be known as my cousin. However, whatever his reasoning, I agreed.

I made the introductions. “This is Larry, my cousin from Atlanta,” I said when I got to him.

My wife, who knows Larry, looked at me as if to say, Did you start the Arba Kosos early? However, after 40 years of marriage, she has learned to expect the unexpected.

One guest asked Larry, “Oh, you’re from Atlanta? Do you know—?”

I immediately said, “Tonight is Seder night, and the children are hungry… and so are the adults, so no time for Jewish geography. Let’s begin! Kadesh, Urchatz…”

The Seder got underway, and even at Shulchan Oreich, as people put down their Haggadahs and loosened their mouths, I monitored the conversation.

Whenever someone attempted to play Jewish ancestory.com, I interjected, “Tonight we say, ‘Avadim hayinu l’Paroh.’ Tonight, we all come from the same neighborhood, Mitzrayim.” I did everything possible to protect everyone’s privacy, and not permit probing questions about anyone’s past, present, or potential future to become part of the conversation. My primary concern at this Seder was not making sure everyone ate enough matzah; it was to make sure that everyone felt a part of my family.

I made it my personal avodah to make sure that all my guests, not only Larry, felt comfortable.

That “Sara the Single” felt just “at home” as “Sarala, the mother of four children.” And after Larry alerted me to his need for anonymity concerning his divorce status, I whispered to another guest, Sam, “Should I not mention anything about your being divorced?”

“Rabbi, how can you ask me that?” Sam answered with conviction. “I hope you will throw in that I’m divorced. How else can I expect to remarry?”

As I scanned the table, I realized that before me sat a group of people with very similar peckels.

Yet everyone’s peckel is unique; no two are identical.

Larry wants his divorce status hidden.

Sam wants his revealed.

Sara the single is very self-conscious about it. Rivky the single, not so much.

Recognizing the peckel is relatively easy, by remembering that one size never fits all is the challenge.

When the Seder ended, and Larry was leaving, he said, “Thank you, Rabbi, you have no idea how liberating this Seder was for me. Of course, I want to remarry. However, to finally sit at a table and not be bombarded with rapid-fire questions of, ‘Would you relocate to Eretz Yisrael? Would you consider a woman older than you? Are you a Kohein?’ is truly redeeming.

“I know everyone means well, but the hail of queries is often so relentless I opt to eat alone. Tonight was my first meal in four years where I truly felt cheirus, freedom. I finally felt free to be me and enjoy the Seder and not feel I was at a job interview.”

I smiled. “I am so happy for you,” I told him.

Larry opened the front door to take his leave. Then, he hesitated. “By the way, do you think Rivka, the one who was sitting across from me, might be kedai to look into?”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 909)

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