Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Fifth Question

Leo Pores, in an article published in the New York Jewish Week writes one of the more moving pieces that I have read recently. Instead of giving a link, I include it here in its entirety, with thanks to both Leo and The Jewish Week:

The Fifth Question

Leo Pores - Special To The Jewish Week

“What,” cried Grandpa Samuel, “did you just ask?”I was 8 years old, and it was almost 80 years ago. It was the traditional seder. I had just recited the Four Questions to a round of applause. Terrified, I slumped in my seat.I had asked a Fifth Question: “Why are matzah squares instead of round matzah balls to be served for dinner?”Grandpa Samuel bristled and was turning red. Taking me by the hand, he marched me into the kitchen where Grandma Sarah stood in a defiant mood. She motioned to Grandpa to approach the stove. There, floating in a golden chicken soup, were two-inch matzah squares, about a half-inch thick.“You are not really going to serve this, are you?” asked Grandpa, menacingly.“You bet I am,” replied Grandma, her voice raising an octave.Cousin Marcia entered the kitchen. “What’s all the commotion?” she demanded. “We could hear you arguing in the living room.”Grandpa turned brusquely, grasped my hand and pulled me into the dining room. “I’ll explain it later,” he reluctantly said, his voice trailing over his shoulder.The seder proceeded somberly, and we finally read the page with the ominous warning: Partake of the Festive Meal.Conversation continued to be lively when the gefilte fish and horseradish were served. The usual accolades about the fish ensued. Then came the chicken soup with matzah squares floating majestically to and fro. There was a hush and complete silence.Grandpa could contain himself no longer. Contrary to his better judgment, he was compelled to answer the Fifth Question.“The matzah squares,” he began hesitatingly, “were made by accident.“When we moved here, Grandma and I joined the Orthodox synagogue,” he continued. “We made many friends. Every year I bought a ticket for the High Holy Days and had a reserved seat. Grandma sat upstairs with the women.“Because they were a sisterhood, the women decided to make a communal seder. They would prepare the meals in the shul’s kitchen. The rabbi agreed to conduct the seder. There was much anticipation, and I was eagerly looking forward to it.” Grandpa’s voice trembled with emotion.“What happened next?” asked Cousin Aaron.Grandpa continued somberly. “They served the soup” – and pandemonium broke loose. “What is the meaning of this? Square matzahs!” the men shouted. “Have you lost your minds?”“Please let me explain...” The rabbi’s wife. Rebbetzin Sylvia timidly began the explanation. “We were so busy chatting away that we left the batter in the refrigerator too long. It froze, and was hardly manageable. It would not form round, so we had a tray with two-inch squares and we formed them.”She recited this as if divulging a secret recipe.Arguments erupted among the men. One half said it would by OK – dayenu. The other half gathered their coats, their women, their children and left the shul.Saturday morning was a revelation. Half the congregation, the Squares, sat on the left. The other half, the Rounds, sat on the right.The rabbi was obviously dismayed. In spite of all his efforts, he could nor bridge the gap.So when, a few weeks later, the Rounds announced that they had bought a building and were starting their own shul, the rabbi was not surprised.“We were on the Square side – we became Reform Jews.”Grandpa stopped talking. There was a pause, a lengthy pause, while everyone pondered the dilemma.Grandma Sarah broke the silence.“All those that want matzah squares, raise your hand,” she said. “All those that want round matzah balls, nod your head.“You see,” she said in a spirit of compromise, “I also made round matzah balls for you traditionalists. Even though we differed on some rituals, we Squares make round matzah balls to remind us that we are one people.”“If that is the case,” I said to Grandpa, “What is the answer to the Fifth Question?” I spoke as a precocious 8-year-old.“The answer to the Fifth Question,” replied Grandpa, “is ... it is the matzah that is important, regardless of its shape. It is to remind us that we were slaves in Egypt and to never forget our fellow Jews. Israel stands as our guardian, so that whenever a Jew is threatened in the world, whether Round or Square, we can say ‘Never Again.’”I was so glad I asked the Fifth Question. Leo Pores lives in Brooklyn.

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