Monday, October 30, 2023

It's always ok to negotiate.

When I was a kid we went to Congregation B'nai Israel in Galveston, Texas. You wouldn't think it, but Galveston has an old congregation by Texas standards and a beautiful Temple built by one of the great leaders in Texas Jewish history, Rabbi Henry Cohen.

Every year we would do the first Passover seder at the Temple with a hundred other people. It was wonderful to share this OLD tradition and hear from elders in the temple about their Passovers in the past.

But of course kids look forward to one thing more than anything else during Passover.

I remember Rabbi Stahl in 1974 standing in the center of the room, surrounded by the children, their eyes wide with anticipation. "Children, the afikomen you are about to search for is not just a piece of matzah. It represents a significant part of our Passover tradition. The seder, this special meal that tells our story of freedom, cannot continue without the return of the afikomen. It's a symbol of redemption and hope, reminding us of our journey from slavery to freedom. And just as our ancestors awaited their liberation, we too await the return of the afikomen to complete our seder. So, search with enthusiasm, joy, and understanding of its importance. May the one who finds it be blessed with the wisdom of our tradition and the joy of uniting us all once again in our celebration.

"The afikomen is hidden either in the music room, the library or my office.  Please be very careful as you look to leave the room exactly as you found it.  Whoever brings back the afikomen, will in addition to our thanks, be given ONE DOLLAR.  Now GO!!"

All the kids raced out in every direction. I was six at the time and my brother was four, and though my mother told me to look out for him, he was too slow and I left him behind.  I raced through the music room and make a quick look, but found nothing,  I went to the library but there were too many people there and too many books.  In the rabbis office there was nothing.  I ran back to the music room just in time to see my brother, who was too slow to keep up, look UNDER the piano bench, where the afikomen was taped.  He pulled it out, and I may have tried to persuade him to give it to me to take back, but he was cunning, even then.

We walked back into the giant dining hall where all the adults were still seated and chatting and I yelled "JEREMY FOUND THE AFIKOMEN!!!" 

People started clapping and the Rabbi said "Bring it on up Jeremy, and claim your one dollar prize! We can't restart the seder until you do!"

As my brother approached the center table, the grizzled hand of one of the temple elders, Sly Ehrlich, reached out and grabbed him - the boney fingers and numerical tattoo on his outstretched arm is a memory burned into my mind.  He pulled my brother in and said "They can't restart the Seder without it?  Kid!  You're Jewish!  Don't take the first offer!  I've got another dollar right here for you to return the afikomen.  Will anyone else match it?" 

In the end Jeremy got $12, of which my mother made him put $2 in the Tzedakah box, and everyone learned a valuable lesson about not taking the first offer.