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Wishing all a wonderful Passover!
Last Passover in Cairo
(for the Senior Channel)
By Janet S. Tiger
© all rights reserved 2014
(A man comes out, in Army fatigues, he is holding a box of matzohs. He speaks calmly, with no discernible accent to start)
First let me say I was inspired by that gentleman who told the story about Palm Sunday - which always comes around Passover, followed by Easter. In my lifetime, I was lucky enough to experience Passover in many locations, but my favorite was ...the last Passover in Cairo.
Now when you say,'Cairo', people think.... exotic...and pyramids. But actually - in the United States, there are 36 places named Cairo - most of them in the South, and one, the one I am fondest of, was near where my father was based for two years of his Army career.
(More of a Southern drawl) You will notice, that as I speak more of the South, my accent returns. The South is a place that weaves its spell on you, like the tentacles of the honeysuckle do - pretty, so pretty, you barely notice the life being squeezed out of you. Or at least that's what my New York born and raised mother used to say.
We were oddities - a Jewish family in the military. My father had been drafted for WWII, and stayed on when they offered him a reserve commission after the war. My mother objected, but he - as always - ignored her, saying, 'Miriam, there's not gonna be another war! We won't allow it! So, I was born in New York, but Korea and that other war we wouldn't allow - Vietanm - made sure my father and our family traveled all over this great big country for over 20 years.
But this memory is of one of the most memorable Passovers that our family enjoyed - the last one in Cairo, as my mother used to call it.
Now in most small Southern towns, there are few Jews, and our Cairo was no exception. There was a traveling rabbi who handled the 50 or so families throughout the county - but mostly we had to spend time explaining to people what Jewish holidays were, and why we did not celebrate Christmas or Easter.
To avoid fights, I soon found it easier to explain Easter as being Jesus' last Seder - and the other kids understood that.
And, over the years, we invited many families to join us for Seder, allowing my mother to explain the peculiarities of her family's Passover observances - that the hard boiled egg came AFTER the soup, and that the horseradish had to be VERY hot, so your eyes teared - and each of these came with its own family tale, always appreciated by the story-loving Southerners at our tables.
And people loved coming - my mother made sure the Seder itself was shortened for their benefit - easy to understand, and with amazing amounts of food - something Southerners truly appreciated.
But the problem with the year I remember best was one of transference - the transfer of my father, that is. He was being transferred right around Passover that year - and my mother was in a tizzy.
You see, she had always hated the moving, but had gotten used to it - in fact, she had it down to a science. Our first few moves, she was ready one week before the actual day. But then, there was the fated Passover in Texas - and we were all set to move, all packed, items sent on ahead, when the order came through - we were staying! Another 3 months! You could hear my mother's shrieks in the real Cairo!
Since then, my mother had decided to wait until the absolute last minute - armed with lists and lists of lists and places where she had secretly stored boxes - to make sure orders hadn't changed.
This worked fine - until, in our last year in Cairo, it turned out the last week when the FINAL decision came down – was right before Passover!
We couldn't leave - what if the orders changed?
And yet, everything was almost packed! What could we do?
My mother was horrified - to pack or not pack the fancy dishes? Did the Army care? For those who have never been in the Army, here's a news bulletin - the Army never cares!
So, our very Passover was in doubt.....just like the Jews waiting for Pharoah's decree, we huddled and worried, well, maybe not huddled, but we went to school and worried.
My mother decided that we would have a 'petite' Passover - scaled down to the very basics - no extra charoset, chopped with those delicious Southern pecans, just enough for one mouthful as the Seder dictated.
It was very sad - and that was on top of the sadness that always went with moving away from new friends that you would usually never see again - or if you did, they would have changed.
Actually, it was sadder - because Passover was always such a family event - with us and all the new friends and Dad together, and now it was just going to be lonely and....sad. Especially because Dad had been called out of state, and would not be back until after Passover. He would call us, of course, but he had only missed one other Seder, and that was when he was in Korea, and it was truly a distant memory.
Passover was on a Monday night that year - and when my mother came to pick us up at school, the principal came out to wish her a Happy Holiday. The woman spoke for what seemed like hours - as Southerners and Jews are very good at - and finally we got to leave.
As we pulled up to our home, we noticed there was almost no parking, just one spot in front of our house.
My mother was surprised - then she remembered the principal had mentioned one of the neighbors had gone into labor early, and so maybe the baby had come.....
We went to our front door, and just as we got there.....
(He takes out a handkerchief and wipes his eyes)
Just as we got there, the door opens and everyone screams - in a Southern accent, of course - (Yells) Hog Someach!.....Which should be...Chag Sameoch, but it didn't matter, you see, all the neighbors had gotten the traveling rabbi, who was there, too, by the way, and they had gotten the rabbi to give them recipes for Passover.
And they had lovingly made all the items - from the roasted shankbone done by Mrs. O'Reilly, to the delicious Matzoh Ball soup by the Dunns to the hit of the evening, Ole Miss McClintock's KFC - kosher fried chicken.......the women had brought fancy tablecloths and napkins and silverware and dishes - all the packed away items had been lovingly replaced by beautiful Irish linen and Waterford crystal and even some silverplated candlestick heirlooms that looked like they had been through the Civil War.
My mother took one look and started to cry, and her friends and neighbors hugged her and it was a very incredible scene.
We sat and the rabbi did the Seder - edited a bit due to the fact everyone had to be at work and school in the morning.
When he talked about the Exodus from Egypt, somehow it meant so much more that night than any other time I've heard it.
And that, my friends, was my most memorable holiday.
(He turns to go, stops)
Almost forgot. There's a part where the door is opened for a mystical guest, Elijah. And when the door opened, we half expected my father to be standing there....
But he wasn't. You can't have everything! Then the phone rang.......that was my father! Calling all the way from Montana, he was thinking about us, and how much he missed us.
(Sighs) I've been all over the world, but that last Passover in Cairo will stay with me forever.......
(And next year in Jerusalem, too! The end)
First poasted Day # 61 April 14, 2014
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Swedenborg Hall 2006-8