Back in the last century the USA celebrated Memorial Day on May 30 to honor the fallen dead of the Civil War, however in the 70s the government shifted Memorial Day to a convenient Monday or Friday to create 3-day weekends. Other national holidays followed suit, although Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye has led a lonely fight to return Memorial Day to May 30, so I could sleep off a birthday drunk with a paid holiday.
Jewish holidays tend to roam the calendar like gaunt Indian cows on the streets of New Delhi.
In 2012 Passover began on April 6 and in 2011 Passaich fell on April 18.
This year the High Holiday started on a March Monday and after finishing work on a small film, I ventured uptown to visit Manny on 47th Street. It was snowing in the city. Winter was taking its time saying goodbye to the East Coast.
His son Richie Boy greeted me with a hug and I congratulated him on his twins’ first birthday.
“When you going home?”
“Ask the old man.” Richie Boy shrugged with resignation to his fate. Most of the booths were closed in the Diamond District, but my former boss was staying to the bitter end of the day. The only people on the street were commuters hurrying home.
“Manny, it’s Passover.”
“And what’s that to you? You’re a goy.” Manny shared my anti-religious beliefs. “When you pay my rent, then you can tell me what time I close my business.”
Manny’s desk was cluttered with the usual piles of paperwork. In all the years I had worked for their firm, the pyramid of papers rose and fell without ever disappearing in entirety.
“Close now and I’ll buy you a martini.”
“I’m busy.” The octogenarian was devoted to his business. It was his home away from home.
“Manny thinks he might make a sale.”
“No one is buying nothing today.”His son shook his head and signaled his two employee to pack up the merchandise. Hlove and Deisy didn’t have to be told twice. ”That’s it. We’re going home.”
This decision started a fight between father and son.
I went outside to wait for Richie Boy.
“Damien, you have something to give for Passiach?” Lenny the bum shambled up to the window. His face was shiny with sweat and strands of hair were plastered across his balding skull. Snow melted on his skull, but Lenny was dressed in his usual attire of a tee shirt and shabby trousers.
“For you, I always have something.” I dug into my pocket for a dollar. “Where are you celebrating Passaich?”
“I’m working the street.” Lenny was a workaholic like Manny. “I have to earn money to take care of my sister.”
“You’re a good brother, Lenny.”
“Plus I don’t really celebrate Passaich.” Lenny didn’t look healthy, but he had disproven many rumors of his demise.
“Why not?” Lenny was no atheist.
“What does Passaich celebrate?” Lenny leaned over to whisper what he had to say, as if it were a secret.
“Passover commemorates the Angel of God passing over the Jewish houses in Egypt.”
The nuns had taught me my Old Testament. They had blamed the Jews for killing Jesus.
“You know I saw THE TEN COMMANDMENTS at the South Shore Drive-In. A drunk teenager threw a rock at our station wagon. My father chased him into the brush. He came back red in the face.”
“It was a good movie, but Charlton Heston was no Jew.” Lenny rocked back and forth on his heels. “Plus there was nothing good about the Ten Plagues. Especially the death of the first-born of all Egyptian humans and animals. Yahweh instructed the Hebrews to sprinkle lamb’s blood on this doors, so his spirit would skip their houses in his search for the first-born males of the Egyptians.”
“You know I was taught that god was all-knowing and all-seeing, so why couldn’t he see which houses were Jewish?”
“Damien, Yahweh moves in strange ways.” Lenny accepted some profane thought, but he glared at my apostasy.
“Most people think the killer of the male first-borns was an angel, but it was actually Yahweh blundering through the night killing young boys. Do you think there was any collateral damage like how our smart bombs hit schools in Afghanistan?”
“How should I know? I wasn’t there, but enough of this narishkait, because Passaich is a celebration of death. Death of the guilty, but also the innocent. This I can not celebrate. Freedom, yes. Extermination,no.”
Several people had gathered around our discussion and a religious diamond dealer angrily demanded of Lenny, “You really think Yahweh was a murderer?”
“It wasn’t the first time.” Lenny didn’t like this attention. He depended on the kindness of this street to support his sister.
“Actually I think that the second-sons of Egypt plotted to kill all the first-borns to destroy the rules of primogeniture and then blamed the Hebrews.” I was talking nonsense to deflect the flak aimed at Lenny.
“Primogeniture?” The diamond dealer had a yeshiva education.
“Primogeniture is where the first born inherits everything from the father. Like Cain and Abel.”
“Cain killed Abel.” Lenny nodded in agreement.
“The second son plot. Maybe all the second sons killed the first sons in Egypt.”
“Es iz nit geshtoygen un nit gefloygen.” The diamond dealer muttered in Yiddish.
“What’s that mean?”
“It never rose and it never flew.” Lenny smiled with the pleasure of speaking Yiddish. “In plain speaking ‘bullshit’.”
“It’s not foolishness.” I protested with the fervor of a devotee to the untruth. “The only logical explanation of passover is that the Egyptians killed the first borns.”
“It was God.” The diamond dealer spoke with words with conviction. “And his killing angel.”
“Isn’t that the same name they called Josef Mengele?”
“That fucking Nazi was called the Angel of Death.” Lenny soured on the mention of his name. He had lost family in the camps. “Passaich was over 3000 years ago. Who knows what it was? I can barely remember what I had to eat for lunch.
“Me neither.” I suspected Lenny had a pint of brandy for lunch. He was more than a little shitkah and I gave him a dollar.
“I love you Damian and pray you see your children soon.”
“And a Happy Bunny Day to you, Lenny.
The slumpy bum wandered off pestering the diamond dealer for a dollar. He was a hard worker.
“What was that all about?” Richie Boy exited from the exchange.
“The origins of Passsaich.”
“Passover? Feh.” He looked into the exchange. His father was still at his papers. “You hungry?”
“Yeah.” The shoot was low-budget and cheaped out on lunch.
“Me too. What about getting something to eat at the Oyster Bar?”
Shellfish were very tref.
Richie Boy and I headed for Grand Central Terminal, passing Lenny.
“I only celebrate the bunnies.”
“I love chocolate.”
I gave him another dollar, because my Bible knowledge came from the nuns and priests. They thought that the Jews had killed Jesus. As a sinner I was willing to forgive everyone for everything, since to err is human, but to forgive that is a divine trait.
Only forgetting is more human.
Just ask Lenny.