Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

A Gentile is Passed Over on Passover

In Guest stories on April 13, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Originally published in The Forward in April 1998, Carol West’s funny, irreverent piece on her efforts to secure a coveted invitation to a Passover seder speaks warmly (and hungrily!) of the annual Jewish feast.

Well, it’s that time of year again, and I was not the chosen one. Passover has passed for the twentieth time, and I still haven’t been invited to a seder.

I moved to New York in 1967 from the South, and my first several years here were a cultural adjustment and a food delight. My only previous experience with Jewish food was a Hebrew National hot dog. I was overwhelmed by knishes on the street, horseradish, lox, good bialys, seltzer water, and chopped liver. My landlady, Mrs. Gruenberg, cooked me chicken soup with matzo balls when I was sick , but I preferred her kreplach. Rugaleh became my pastry of choice.

When Passover came it was matzo sandwiches with cream cheese and jelly for me. At my office, feasts from the night before were discussed and recipes were exchanged. Goodies in abundance were brought from home with the explanation, “Bubbe made too much.” I ate dense chocolate Passover cakes, macaroons, – plain and chocolate – special chicken and a memorable apple nut dessert.

How could I get myself invited to this yearly festival, I wondered. I gave myself a year, then another. It became an obsession, like the prom. With so many Jewish friends, associates, and lovers, I became Don Quixote, searching for an invitation to the elusive holiday meal. Each year, I made efforts to secure a coveted seat. I gently asked, “Are you preparing anything special?” and “How long does your seder last?” Finally, I was blatant and asked, “Will you be having any guests for dinner this year? I could be enticed over.” My friend Stella said, “We always go to a hotel for Passover.” My friend Mitch said, “We’re going to my mother-in-law’s.” My landlady told me, “My dream has come true. I’m spending Passover in Israel.” Another colleague said, “It’s my friend’s turn.” Agnes, a recent convert, told me “My husband wouldn’t understand.” You figure that one out. Doesn’t anyone believe in the kindness of an invitation?

In 1985, I worked with a young German named Helmut. He wasn’t here a month when he got his invitation for the first night seder. His only comment was “nice meal.” I’m still at square one. I am prepared to be a superstar guest. I located a strictly kosher candy store on Madison Avenue, so I’d take the right chocolates. I have a connection who has a connection in Brooklyn, so I can get a box of fresh matzo for twenty dollars a pound. Money is no object. Of course, I’ll send a thank you note with a basket of fresh fruit the next morning to my host and hostess.

If I am ever invited, I’ll accept in a minute, even for the eighth-night dinner. Perhaps after several years of good behavior, I can work my way up to the second night. And then maybe even a cherished seat at first-night Seder. This year I’m starting a new organisation: Invite a Gentile to Passover Seder. Maybe guilt is the way to go.

Carol West


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