When the Weber family invites the Wolfson familyfor seder, we are asked to prepare a presentation on some aspect ofthe seder ceremony. The presentation could be a d’rash , an explanation of whatthe Haggadah is trying to say. But, over the years, our presentationshave also been given as a play, a song, and a take-off on a gameshow.
Not everyone in your family may be able to dothis, but there is no better way to encourage participation in theseder than by asking people to prepare something in advance to bringto the table.
2. Buy time .
The seder ceremonies of my youth never lasted morethan 20 minutes. That’s how long it took to say Kiddush, do Karpas , breakthe matzo, and fight over who was the youngest grandchild who couldsay the ” Mah Nishtanah .” After a few minutes ofeveryone-take-turns-reading-a-paragraph, my Uncle Morton would askthe infamous fifth question: “When do we eat?” End ofceremony.
One way to buy time to spend on the telling of thestory is to offer your guests something to nibble on between thevegetables of Karpas and the meal. My very creative wife Susie oftenprepares an edible centerpiece. She and the kids slice jicama verythin and with “Jewish” cookie-cutters, stamp out jicama Stars ofDavid, Torah scrolls, and Kiddush cups. She places the shapes on theend of bamboo shishkabob skewers and inserts them into a head of redcabbage placed in a wicker basket. She adds color to the display bycutting flowerettes of green and red pepper, carrots, celery andother vegetables, and placing them on skewers and into the cabbage.The result is a spectacular vegetable bouquet which we use as acenterpiece on the seder table. After Karpas, we invite our guests totake the skewers out of the cabbage and dip the vegetables intosaucers of pesahdik salad dressings placed around the table.
Our friends Gail and Shelley Dorph buy time byusing artichokes for Karpas instead of parsley. They then dip theartichoke leaves into dressings for nibbling until the meal isserved.
3. Tell the story.
Thecore of the seder experience is the telling of the story of theExodus from Egypt. The traditional text of the Haggadah contains fourdifferent tellings of the story, each one beginning with a question(“Mah Nishtanah,” the questions of the four children,” Tzet u-l’mad ,”and Rabban Gamliel’s questions), a response, and praise for God.Think of ways to tell the story that supplement the Haggadah.
One year, we were invited to a seder where thehost family put on a skit. Stan Beiner’s “Sedra Scenes” is a goodsource. Another family we know of uses puppets and storybooks.
The most unusual telling, however, had to be thefamily who presented a magical version of the Ten Plagues in costume.The father played the Pharaoh who, after complaining about howthirsty he was, asked one of the kids to fetch him some cool clearwater from the Nile. The child left the dining room and returned witha pitcher of water and an empty glass. As the “Pharaoh” poured theclear water into the glass, it turned red. It turns out the fatherwas an amateur magician who incorporated a variety of magic tricksinto their telling of the story. It was amazing — andunforgettable.
4. Ask questions.
The Haggadah invites questions. Encourage yourguests to liberate themselves from the book and discuss what it isthe Haggadah is trying to tell us. A favorite point to do this isafter the recitation of the Ten Plagues.
“What are 10 things that plague us today?” is aquestion anyone, no matter what their Judaic knowledge level, cananswer.
When the Haggadah tells us that we should feel asif we were redeemed from Egypt, what does that mean?
What are we doing about Jewish continuity — inour family, in our community?
The discussion resulting from these questions canbe the highlight of your seder.
5. Have fun.
Having fun is serious business, especially at theseder table. The seder was never meant to be dull. Quite thecontrary, it is to be a relaxed, informal educationalexperience.
Some families add favorite songs children learn inreligious school: “Go Down Moses,” “One Day When Pharaoh Awoke in HisBed,” and others. A favorite parody is “The Ballad of the Four Sons.”We read “Only Nine Chairs” by Deborah Uchill Miller (Kar-Ben Copies),a hilarious account of a family seder.
6. Be inclusive.
Scratch the surface of most Jewish adults andyou’ll find a child who was upset at not finding the afikoman . We created a way toinclude everyone in the afikoman search. We make a chart with theorder of the seder ( Kadesh,Urhatz , etc.) and select one letter fromeach word. We put these 14 letters on 3 x 5 cards and then hide themaround the house. We tell the kids that each of them must find atleast one of the cards for us to find the real afikoman. When thekids find all the cards, they bring them to the table.
Then, we ask the adults to figure out ajumble-word-search two-word clue from the letters. The letters spell”at refrigerator.” Once the clue is deciphered, everyone runs to therefrigerator and finds the real afikoman. Then, of course, everyonewho participated in the search gets a prize.
7. Use materials.
One of the problems in keeping the young childreninterested in the seder is that most haggadot are not designed forthem. When our kids were in nursery school, Susie created a “Pat theBunny”-type haggadah using the coloring sheets sent home from class.She added tactile materials to the sheets where appropriate; cottonballs on pictures of sheep, sandpaper on pictures of the bricks ofthe pyramids, grape scratch-and-sniff stickers on pictures of theKiddush cups. She put these in a loose-leaf notebook and made copiesfor the kids at the seder. They were immediately engrossed in thebook, following along and participating at their own level in theirown very special way. Susie also gave each child a “goodie bag”filled with Passover symbols, frog stickers, a bookmark, even moisttowelettes for the inevitable spills of wine.
8. Hiddushim (innovations).
Each year, experienced seder leaders look for newideas to incorporate into the ceremony. Here are a few of myfavorites.
Instead of filling Elijah’s Cup with wine at thebeginning of the seder, wait until just before opening the door andpass Elijah’s cup to each participant who pours some of her/his wineinto it. This is a demonstration of the need to act to bring theMessianic era.
The Sephardim pick up the seder plate and place itover every person’s head during the recitation of ” ho lahma anya ,” the invitationto participate in the seder. Another Sephardic custom is to beat theleader with green onions during the singing of “Dayenu” as a reminderof the plagues.
Save your lulav from Succot and use it instead ofa feather to collect the last vestiges of chametz during the annual searchon the night before the seder.
Ask a set of modern “Four Questions” to discuss atthe ceremony.
Challenge your guests to sing all the verses to” Had Gaya” inone breath. Sing it with sound effects; choose a person to create the sound ofa goat, a car, a dog, a stick, fire, etc., which they make after thewords are sung. The most interesting sounds will be for the Angel ofDeath and Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu.
9. Choose a good haggadah.
There are 3,000 editions of the Haggadahcatalogued in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary andevery year more versions appear. Jews have always felt comfortable inputting together haggadot that reflect their particular slant onexperience of the seder. So, we have “The Haggadah for the LiberatedLamb” (a vegetarian Haggadah) and “The San Diego Women’s Haggadah” (afeminist Haggadah).
We have traditional unedited texts and greatlyabbreviated liberal texts. We have new “family” haggadot and that oldstandby, the Maxwell House Haggadah. In the Conservative movement, wehave the Rabbincal Assembly haggadah, “The Feast of Freedom.”
Choose a haggadah that fits your family’s needs.Since the cost of multiple copies is often quite substantial, pickone that will last a number of years — in style, substance andconstruction. Remember, the book itself should stand up to extensiveuse.
Of course, the ultimate haggadah may be one youyourself put together. With inexpensive printing widely available, itis not difficult to edit your own haggadah text. With the help ofguidebooks, you can develop a text that reflects your understandingof the seder story and that fits the needs of your family. This willtake some time, but the reward will be a seder experience that ismeaningful and memorable.
Kiddush cup by Hieronymos Mittacht, 1763. Above, “Sisters of the Van Geldern Haggadah” by Moses Lieb Wolf,1716.
Photos from “Jewish Art,” 1995.
Dr. Ron Wolfson is vice president and directorof the Shirley and Arthur Whizin Center for the Jewish Future at theUniversity of Judaism
What goes into a communityseder? Try 2,000 matzo balls and one creativerabbi
A Meaningful Feast
By Wendy J. Madnick, Valley Editor
It’s hard enough to cook, clean and still make aseder meaningful for yourself and a dozen relatives. So how do rabbisand caterers manage the same feat for 300 Passover guests?
That’s the challenge of the community seder, a LosAngeles institution ever since the first recorded one was helddowntown at the Olive Street Shul in 1912.
Since then, various area synagogues have hostedseders on the second night of Passover for their members, as well asfor those who have nowhere else to go.
Last year, 200 people attended Shomrei TorahSynagogue’s seder, and organizers expect even more to attend thisyear. The 1997 guest list was comprised mainly of families andseniors, most of them single.
Leading a large seder is “an interestingchallenge,” said Rabbi Elijah Schochet, spiritual leader of the WestHills congregation.
“The best approach would be to individualize themeaning of freedom for each guest at the seder. I try to get all thepeople from nine to 90 years old to think of their own freedom andthen to talk about using freedom wisely and humanely,” he said. “Evenin a chaotic seder, one can find a rare moment forintrospection.”
Last year’s community seder “did turn out to be aspiritual high, a very participatory seder,” he said. “We had a lotof children present and it was even possible at certain moments tohave dialogue among those present, reactions to the prayers beingread.”
Rabbi Ron Herstik of Temple Solael, also in WestHills, said he sees the community seder as an opportunity forcongregants and guests to experience what it is like to be part of anextended family, “without the mishegas associated with beingpart of a large family.”
“For many people, the prospect of making a sederfor 30 people can be quite daunting,” he said. “So this [communitymeal] becomes an opportunity to be with family and not have to worryabout making preparations that would dissuade many people from evenhaving a seder.”
Herstik is a veteran of these affairs. For nearly20 years, he led the community seders at the congregation he foundedin San Diego. He said the key to leading a large service is to makecreative use of the haggadah. To that end, he has compiled his own,and encourages his congregants to do the same.
“It is a very rich holiday. Virtually anyone whois interested can put together a haggadah that will address thetraditions and also contemporary concerns,” he said.
Caterers also need to develop a strategy to handlea meal that includes many courses at irregular intervals. The keys toa successful celebration are preparation and great recipes, accordingto Michael Cohen, owner of Majestic Catering and currently in-housecaterer for Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge as well as ShomreiTorah.
In the months before the holiday, Cohen orders hisgroceries, including 25 cases of chickens, 100 boxes of matzo, 50boxes of matzo meal, four cases of apples and about 40 pounds offresh dates for the charoset and the tzimmes.
The week before Pesach, the marathon begins. Thefirst two or three days are spent making the various kitchens kosher,then Cohen and his staff go to work preparing all the individualitems.
“The charoset is the most fun, because everybodylikes to sample it,” said Cohen, who has 21 years of seder cateringexperience. “I also make a chicken breast with matzo farfel. That’smy specialty,” he said.
And then the intensive work begins: making 2,000matzo balls.
“It’s the most time-consuming part, because youcan only make so many at a time,” he said. “I put up six pots toboil, but the pots just fit so many and then everybody’s eating themas quickly as we’re making them. And then I always get calls from afew friends and neighbors asking ‘Michael, do you have a few extra?’A lot of people don’t mind making a brisket, but matzo balls are alot of work.”
With his father, Murray, brother, Steve, andsister, Paula Gootkin, also in the business, the Cohen family gathersfor its seder each year on the third night of Passover.
Schochet sees a trend with communityseders.
“What we find happening within the congregation ispeople who care about the Passover seder getting together with goodfriends who also care, rather than being with family members who areindifferent,” he said. “In a way it’s sad, but I can understand. Theywould rather have their children be with other like-minded familieswho enjoy the service and know the songs. So they use the first sedernight to fulfill their family obligations, and then have the ‘real’seder the second night.”
Slaves to the Sponge Cake, No More
A new book showcases perfect Passoverdesserts
By Robert Eshman, Managing Editor
My grandmother’s Passover sponge cake was a thingof wonder. High as a pillbox, it had hardly more flavor. As a stagingarea for the season’s first strawberries and a slug of Cool Whip – weate that back then – it was dutifully bland. By itself, it was morescience project than dessert. We would nibble off the crusted sugartopping, then use the rest in a contest to see whose slice couldabsorb more spilled milk. Cups, if not quarts, of liquid disappearedinto each slice.
We don’t have sponge cake to kick around muchlonger, it seems. In the new issue of Martha Stewart Living, thearbiter of taste for those who can’t afford to run with the Town andCountry set, Eric Asimov all but recited kaddish (though Martha wouldn’tcall it that) for the once obligatory Passover dessert. European chichas usurped Settlement and Sisterhood cookbook recipes, and nuttortes and flourless chocolate cakes are as commonplace inrestaurants today as the profiteroles and cherries jubilee ofold.
Once you’ve had a slice of acclaimed Berkeleychocolatrice Alice Meydrich’s hazelnut chocolate nut torte withchocolate honey glaze – a dense, supple and flourless wonder – noamount of guilt or nostalgia will lure you back to the sponge.
I was introduced to the glories of the Europeantorte by Ellen Straus, the matriarch of the Straus Dairy in MarinCounty, where long ago I spent a perfect spring cleaning milkingbarns and digging fence posts. Ellen, the daughter of AmsterdamJewish diamond merchants, made the kind of desserts for which AliceWaters, 200 miles to the south at Chez Panisse, was being hailed as aculinary messiah. She crushed Zweiback biscuits, blended them withmelted (homemade) butter, topped them with just-picked ripe elephantheart plums, and just before baking drizzled the top with slicedalmonds and sugar.
Few people have the talents of Alice Meydrich orEllen Straus. That’s where a new cookbook, “Fabulous & Flourless:150 Wheatless and Dairy Free Desserts” by Mary Wachtel Mauksch(Macmillan, $19.95) comes in. The title is unfortunate, because thebook itself is more about fabulousness than flour- or dairy-lessness.I don’t know whether Mauksch is even Jewish, but she has compiled,perhaps inadvertently, the perfect Passover dessert cookbook.
Using ground nuts for substance and egg whites forleavening, most of her recipes enable kosher cooks to effortlesslyglide over the twin no-no’s of a meat Passover meal: no dairy and noflour. The Prague-born Mauksch draws on childhood memories torecreate instructions for cakes, cookies, roulades, puddings,soufflés, tarts and tortes. Some recipes use a nip ofcornstarch, rice flour or spelt – all forbidden on Passover – butmost, like Aristocrat’s Torte or Walnut Fig Cake, do not. (Therecipes, Mauksch freely acknowledges, work as well or better withreal butter. Try butter from the Straus Dairy, available at La BreaBakery). There are non-dairy cream fillings, ices and glazes withwhich to finish the desserts, and Mauksch includes helpful sectionson ingredients, substitutions and sources.
I plan on making one of her Chocolate HazelnutCakes into a pyramid shape, glazing it with chocolate, and serving itas a reminder that once we too were slaves to sponge cake.
Mauksch writes that this recipe comes from hermother’s 19th century Viennese cookbook.
8 1/2 tablespoons unsalted lactose-freemargarine
2/3 cup sugar
6 extra large eggs, separated
6 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated
1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/3 cups grated blanched and toastedalmonds
1 recipe Rich Chocolate Cream (see below)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease two 8-inch springform pans; setaside.
3. In a small bowl, cream the margarine and addthe sugar. Beat until fluffy.
4. Add the yolks one at a time, beatingconstantly. Mix in the chocolate.
5. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with thelemon juice until firm and creamy.
6. Fold the almonds and the yolk mixture into thebeaten egg whites.
7. Divide the batter equally between the pans.Bake in the upper part of the oven until the cake shrinks from therims, about 35-40 minutes.
8. Remove the cakes from the springforms, let coolon a rack.
9. When cool, cut each cake horizontally into twolayers. Cover three of the layers with one-quarter of the ChocolateCream, then stack all the layers, ending with the plain one. Decoratetop and sides with Chocolate Cream. Serves 8-12.
Rich Chocolate Cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated
8 tablespoons unsalted lactose-freemargarine
1. Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water. Bringit to a simmer.
2. In a bowl large enough to fit inside the pot,combine the yolks and sugar and beat over the simmering water untilthick and double in volume.
3. Add the chocolate and continue beating.
4. Remove the bowl from hot water. Cut themargarine into pieces and add gradually, stirring to incorporatebetween additions. Makes 1 cup.
Bring On the Blowtorches
Behind every good kashering job is an army ofworkers
By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor
A short, heavy-set man sits perched on the insideedge of the life-size sink, the corners of his dirty white apronfalling into the speckled muck near the drain. In one hand is aparing knife, in the other Easy-Off heavy duty oven cleaner.
He sprays. He scrapes.
His shoulders hunch and his eyes squint as he digsthe point of the knife into the gunk at the base of the faucet. Heattacks the little area between the knobs. He makes sure that thebrown stuff cowering inside the engraved “H” and “C” know the wrathof Pesach cleaning.
Or whatever it is they have him doing this for.The isn’t Jewish. But he is among an army of shul and cateringemployees without whom many a matzo ball would never see the light ofchicken soup.
“The first time I heard about it, I thought it wasa joke,” says Noe Molina, who has learned the rigors of Passover asan assistant for three years at Elegant Event, Edmond Guenoun’scatering service at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.
Now, on the Sunday morning before Pesach, as steamrises around him and fumes from the most caustic agents on the marketmake his eyes tear, Molina is pretty sure it is serious.
For dozens of kosher caterers across Los Angeles,this week brings with it rigorous scrubbing, scraping, scouring untilevery speck of chametz is routed out, lest a tiny crumb render akitchen unfit for Passover.
Martha Urrutia, who has been the cook for ElegantEvent for five years, has been making Pesach for 18 years sincemigrating here from her native Guatemala. She started working in thehome of Pat Fine, and when Fine started her kosher catering business,Urrutia went with her.
“I knew something about cooking, but I didn’t knowanything about Jewish food or customs or traditions,” Urrutia says,as she whisks a bag of chametz cookies out of the kitchen and intothe Beth Jacob social hall, where about a dozen tables are stackedwith the green marble-trimmed non-Passover china, ready to hide inthe closet for the next two weeks.
“I never thought it was crazy,” she says of theyear-round and Pesach laws of kashrut. “I think they have to followtheir own beliefs, because that’s what’s been written and that’stheir tradition. And then I have to follow that, because I work forthem.”
Urrutia says she enjoys working for koshercaterers, although the challenge of coming up with flourless dessertsis somewhat daunting.
“For me it’s quite an experience. I never thoughtI would be working for Jewish people,” she says.
Today, as she kneels below a sink with a scouringpad and a bucket, the reality is all too tangible.
Steam rises all around the kitchen, as the hottestwater, the most potent brews of Lime Away and the yellow stuff markedonly “Professional Strength” is used to wash walls, sinks andcounters. The refrigerators drone steadily as four workers, intenseand driven, attack the place. They worked last night for hours, thencame in early this morning.
Now, the moment of truth has arrived.
Enter the rabbi.
The man in the thick salt-and-pepper beard and thewhite shirt is here for the kashering part. The mashgiach, kashrut supervisorfor the Rabbinical Council of California, must proclaim that thecleaning job is satisfactory so that he can begin thekashering.
Molina looks a bit nervous as the rabbi inspectsthe dishwasher, most of it sitting in pieces on the counter. Therabbi runs his fingers underneath a metal ledge. It comes upgreasy.
“They always miss the parts they can’t see,” hesays, confirming his theory as he runs his fingers over the back ofthe refrigerator handle. “But they do a very good job here. It’s veryhard work,” he adds.
The mashgiach turns on the 25 burners on thestove. He covers the grill with foil and puts it on full blast. He’scovering it, he explains, so that the heat stays in and the metalgrates, which come into direct contact with food, get so hot theyglow.
He brings to a boil a 20-gallon vat of water,ready for kashering utensils.
The convection oven and standard ovens are alsoplaced on the highest setting. But that won’t be enough. They’ll needthe treatment of that fire-breathing apparatus men dream about: theblowtorch.
As the rabbi aims the nozzle first at the metalsurfaces on and around the stove top, some of the workers drop theirsteel wool to stare.
“The dirt in a catering kitchen is not like thedirt at home,” the rabbi explains.
As he turns down the flame, the lights start toblink. No, it’s not time for a break. It’s simply Urrutia cleaningthe light switch.
In fact, it won’t be time for a break for a while.After all, this is just the beginning. Next comes the real work:seder for 1,000.
As the catering kitchen was kasheredupstairs at Beth Jacob, downstairs mashgiah Mordecai Rube and a BethJacob employee used a blowtorch to kasher pots and pans.
Photos by Shlomit Levy
Hospital Chaplains Help Patients CelebratePassover
By NaomiPfefferman, Senior Writer
On each seder night at Cedars-Sinai, patientsseparated from their families will be able to enjoy the holiday witha flick of the TV remote.
On their television screen they will discover aseder, aired at 4 and 5 p.m., led by Jewish chaplain Rabbi Levi Meierand Cedars-Sinai leaders. The videotaped seder “is unique in theworld,” says Meier, who began the tradition some 20 years ago.
The newestvideotape, completed just last month, will be accompanied by akosher-for-Passover seder meal, including brisket, baked chicken, andeven a mini-seder plate with karpas , charoset and maror .
“The video is geared toward hospital patients,”the rabbi says. “To alleviate the loneliness, we let them know thatwe are their family; that they are sitting at our table.”
During the four intermediary days of the holiday,when work is permitted, Meier, an Orthodox rabbi and practicingpsychologist, visits his usual 30 to 50 patients per day. He asks,”How is this Passover different from other Passovers?” and remindspatients that “We all go through Egypt, and we all come out.”
Each Pesach, the rabbi has his own visitor, aformer heart transplant patient who was grateful to celebratePassover in the hospital some years ago. Every erev Passover, he comes toMeier’s office to hug him and say, “Thank you.”
Of course, there are some patients who do not wantto observe the holiday, and for the rabbi, that’s fine too. For thosewho are terminally ill, the memorial service Meier leads on the lastday of Passover has special meaning. “It may be the last time a sonor daughter sees their parent called to the Torah,” the rabbiexplains. “If a patient cannot move, we move the Torah towardthem.”
Downtown at L.A. County-USC Medical Center, RabbiMartin Ryback, the retired director of chaplaincy for the SouthernCalifornia Board of Rabbis, has his own tales of Passovers past. Only2 percent of the patients are Jewish, but the rabbi makeskosher-for-Passover food available to anyone who wants it.
Ryback recalls a young Russianémigré, the victim of a car accident, who was in severepain on the 12th floor burn ward not long ago. His parents, who spoketo the rabbi in Yiddish, wondered why God had punished their onlyson. When the doctors were able to save his leg, they regarded it asa Passover miracle.
Then there was the homeless man, a resident ofSkid Row, who arrived at the hospital after a heart attack some yearsago. Over his Passover meal, he described growing up in a poorOrthodox Jewish family in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Afterhis hospital stay, Ryback tried to find the patient some temporaryshelter. But after two weeks, he simply disappeared.
At the UCLA Medical Center, Rabbi Kalman Winnickwalks down the halls, carrying haggadot and a box of matzo. He,too, is making kosher food available to Jewish patients, who make upnearly 15 percent of the hospital’s clientele. “I’m not going topretend things are terrific for patients,” explains the 37-year-oldchaplain. “But if I can make things just one tiny bit better, that’saccomplishing a lot.”
Top, a silver seder plate from Austria,1815. Photo from “Jewish Art,”1995.
Above, Rabbi Levi Meier leads the Cedars-SinaiMedical Center annual seder, which is held early and videotaped sopatients can watch the seder during Passover in thehospital.
Pesach with the Roths of Frankfurt, 5731
By Marvin Wolf
It was Pesach, 5731, and I, a captain in the llthSignal Battalion in Kaiserslauter, Germany, needed a place for seder.The Jewish chaplain for U.S. forces in West Germany told me he knewplenty of Jewish millionaires at whose homes I would be welcome, buthe couldn’t recommend them.
“What do you mean?”I asked.
“After the war,’45, ’46, Germany was in ruins,” heexplained. “Terrible times. Nobody had money except the Occupationforces and a handful of Jews who had survived the camps and got amonthly pension — government reparations.
“In Frankfurt, a few of these Jews recruitedstarving, desperate German girls and opened brothels. Got theirrevenge, and got rich, too. They’re in other businesses now, but doyou really want to spend Pesach with such people?”he asked.
“Guess not,”I replied.
“Then I’ll ask Louis Roth,” said the chaplain.”He’s probably the poorest Jew in Frankfurt — but a very interestingman.”
I found his four-room walkup in a stadt project, rows of grimconcrete apartments slumped around asphalt quadrangles. In Louis’spotless home, a few sticks of severe Nordic furniture tiptoed acrossbare floors; only a calendar relieved the monotony of whitewashedwalls.
A compact man in his 60s, his face was deeplylined and he moved with the stiff, painful tread of an octogenarian.Louis effusively accepted the matzo and kosher-for-Pesach cannedgoods my cousin had provided. In flawless English, he introducedAnna, a Saxon wife less than half his age and at least twice hissize, and their flaxen-haired daughter, a giggling 9-year-old withDown syndrome.
Louis opened his haggadah and we began in theusual way: Moses, Pharaoh, plagues, the Angel of Death, the Exodus,bread of affliction, bitter herbs, wine. Seamlessly, he continuedwith his own tale: A newspaperman critical of National Socialism, hiscareer as a columnist ended in 1933 with a midnight warning from apolice pal that he would be arrested at dawn. Hegira took him toFrance, where he wrote for a wire service until Paris fell and theGestapo hunted him down.
Lucky Louis avoided the extermination camps andpassed an agonizing captivity among political prisoners in a Belgiandungeon. In 1944, a Sherman tank flying the tri-color broke down thewalls. Louis slept three days in a hotel, ate the most glorious mealof his life — K rations — and went to work reporting the war. In1945, he returned to Frankfurt.
His health broken, Louis survived on a tinypension supplemented by selling tickets at the Operaplatz. There he met Anna, ahomely farm girl who eked out a living scrubbing floors. Often, afterthe house lights dimmed, he found her a seat where she could listento the music she loved.
One night Anna was raped. Upon learning that shewas pregnant, she attempted suicide. Louis proposed marriage,protected Anna from disgrace and gave the hapless child the onlything of value he owned: his name.
I had swallowed a hundred questions, but now Iinterrupted. “I don’t understand,” I said. “After all that theGermans did to you, after the war, why didn’t you go to Israel, orthe States?”
“There have been Roths in Germany for at least1,000 years,” he replied. “I couldn’t let a few gangsters drive mefrom my home.”
On the long drive back to my base, I decided thatcousin David was wrong. Tally up the things that really count, andLouis Roth was the richest Jew in Frankfurt.
Marvin Wolf in uniform, c.1971.
Marvin Wolf, an author and raconteur, willshare more tales from his years in uniform at Temple Mishkon Tephilo,201 Main St., Venice, at 6:00 p.m. Sunday, April 19. Call (310)392-3029 for details.