Pesach passed in a blur. It came and went in a dizzying cycle of changing from white to floral to white to floral tichel, or in clockspeak, from night to day to night to day. Our yom tov was a lot of the ordinary extraordinary. The weather didn’t catch the drift from the fires we stoked before Pesach began, and it remained cold on most days. The seddar was uneventful; there were the loud yawns from the ladies, the red-eyed coughing fits from the men who overdosed on handfuls of bitter murrar, or the little ‘thieves’ under the table heisting the afikomen. Eliyahu the Prophet – drunk as ever - winked at me upon shuffling in at his turn in the haggada, patted his belly to indicate he’s filled it steadily, and then downed his designated extra large cup. Nothing special you see, just your typical yom tov.
On the eighth day of Pesach, when we expand our food choices to mixing matzah with liquid, we were beating up eggs and matzah crumbs in a matzah-ball kneidle mixture, when my sister mentioned a letter in the newspaper Der Blatt decrying the age-old kneidlemaker joke. For those unfamiliar with it, the tradition is to send a child up and down to the neighbors to borrow a kneidlemaker. It's a gesture that we're finally sharing food and utensils with other families, unlike the previous days of Passover. Some neighbors would remember the prank from the previous year and laugh at the innocent child in the doorway. Others would go searching their cabinets thoroughly, making a mental note to get that kneidlemaker immediately after the holiday.
Ha, ha, ha. The kneidlemaker, really, for you out there that are now digging through your shelves, is one’s hands moving in circular motion to form the ball. Ah-hahaha! Not so funny, but a good effort to coax a laugh.
My father usually entertained us during that Passover meal of hot chicken soup and freely floating grayish kneidl, by telling tales of his own kneidlmaker stories. We'd be guffawing at those mean-spirited adults. It was a legend, an old legend, from Europe even, the kneidlmaker.
In the letter to the yiddish newspaper the author calls to stop the humiliation and child insensitivity of the old kneidlemaker joke. My family discussed the argument that was raised, acknowledged the cruelty involved in it all, and then, without much opposition, murdered the tradition.
I stood by, in this egg-shell of a world, without saying anything. There isn’t much to advocate in a joke on kids, but it’s just another example of a society that lacks a good measure of humor.
Reminds me of a world I grew up in. My family is not the one to huddle around tables at family gatherings and have loud animated conversation. We don’t dance at weddings with wild steps, or make fun of ourselves. Humor, especially the effort to produce it, has been renamed ‘corny’ and partnered with a swift move of the entire mouth to one side. Exaggerations and lies have become synonyms. Making fun of yourself in Yiddish is “machsteech tsi-nar”, you're being a fool. And what’s left, ego intact, is making fun of others behind their backs.
Needless to say, I too, at the ripe old age of eleven learned to hang one leg over the other and be ‘mature’. Forget funny, big, witty, real or light. “Oy, whew.” [pull down the blouse, pat hair] “So, vooz titsech epes?” [Cock the head.]
My first movie really reminds me of how seriously we take ourselves. Ahh, who could forget their first movie, hu? I was about 16, maybe 17, and I didn’t see another show before months, maybe years, later. But that was one movie I wound up watching after a supposed shopping day with a supposed chaperon supposedly with different friends. I pounced at the opportunity.
We sat at the edge of our seats, our rears mostly in the air, eying the audience for school spies. We were ready for more action from the back door than from the screen itself. There was something uncannily similar between one lady holding hands with a bald guy in the front seats and our school principle. To this day I could swear it was her in disguise.
The film began with a wife losing all her assets to a cheating husband in a bitter divorce. I can remember every detail like today. “Shoin, at least she didn’t have children” my friend whispered to us. At least she didn’t have children, that woman Chrissie or something. 35 and divorced! How’s she ever gonna get married again? Probably gonna get a gurish. We were concerned.
In a spontaneous move to improve her life, the protagonist moved to the nowhere, doomed by a place full of bad omen. When she entered her creaky little house we were shocked to look into the screen, as a wild bird flew clear over Chrissie's head. Wide eyed and appaled, we watched. The audience chuckled.
As she trotted up for her second story, all the stairs came crumbling under her weight and she landed with a jolt. We gasped. The audience laughed.
She got her tub running for a nice warm bath, and out came blasting in every direction, gooey brown water. The faucet itself flew off straight across the room. We looked on horrified. The poor woman. Divorced and now this?
Later, her window broke in a cold and harsh blizzard. Alone, in that old house. She huddled at the radiator for a bit of warmth when her electricity went baboom, sparkle – and gone. Darkness. She sat there in the cold, curled up in a blanket, without heat. The audience giggled with every development. I dabbed myself with kleenex. My friends looked equally somber. I blew my nose. We quietly cursed the movie. A comedy? Chrissie was a walking disaster in her social encounters and said all the wrong, morbidly embarrassing things. My ego bled.
The movie ended, after many an agony, with a sour improvement. I wiped my eyes in my sleeves and we all left, red noses marking our faces.
A good few comedies later, and I’m starting to remember this first one as the best one yet. For all it’s awful events, it told me a bit about how much easier life is with tougher skin and less sensitivity. It's also told me that above all disasters, those theatre-goers must have loved the three hollering chassidic girls best. Let them audience laugh away, those child abusers, I'm writing a letter to Der Blatt about that.
In light of all this, my summer’s resolution is to use my kneidlemaker on the keyboard more often. Seriously.