Thursday, December 25, 2008

Crying at Passover

Len Klein
Memory Sketch # 05,
January 2001

Saratoga Avenue, between Pitkin and Sutter, was where Zayde and Bubbe lived. Their apartment was on the ground floor, to the right off the main entrance to the building. Their living room windows looked out upon the Avenue. For Passover, all of the family would gather in that living room, seated around four or five tables. I don’t know where the living room furniture had been removed to, but the room was empty except for tables and chairs. Seated at the front of the room, with one window on either side of him, was the imposing figure of Zayde. Everyone looked to him for directions about how things were to be done, and I noticed that even Uncle Israel, whom my own mother looked up to, took direction from Zayde. You have to know that I found that to be really remarkable because at that time I still believed that Israel Street or Park, near the Pitkin Theater, was named for Uncle Israel, and I wasn’t to sure about all the other references to the name, Israel. My Uncle, who had two radio programs on WEVD was a very important man.

There was one Passover that my memory keeps returning to; it was the crying Passover. The story of the Exodus was read, in Hebrew and in Yiddish, by Zayde, who had constantly to wipe his eyes. The wine was drunk several times after prayers, the food was brought to the table as it had been before, but this day they cried as the women served and they cried as we ate. Bubbe wasn’t there helping with the food. The passages continued to be read after the meal, but at the end there was no singing, only crying. I didn’t know why. Then when people left the table, I noticed that in twos and threes they went into the bedroom in the back. When I went in, I discovered that Bubbe was there, lying in bed. She hardly moved and I don’t remember her speaking. Why was she in bed during Passover dinner? I asked. Shah, shah, Grandma is dying, I was told.

While we were eating and opening the door for Elienohu to come in and drink the wine, while the story of Passover was being read, and while I said the “fier kashes,” each line spoken in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English, Bubbe was in that room dying? Right there, in the bed, in the house, she was dying? It was all so confusing, and scary at the same time. How did they know she was dying and not just resting? What was going to happen when she died, and she’d still be in the bed? I didn’t want to be in the room when she died and became dead in the bed, so I got out of there quickly. Uncle Jack was in the living room crying very loudly; then someone told me that Bubbe was Uncle Jack’s mother. Upon that realization came the amazing fact that Uncle Israel was also the son of Zaide and Bubbe. But, my mother called Jack her brother and Israel her Uncle, and I knew Zaide and Bubbe were not her parents. After a while, I stopped trying to figure it all out and just accepted that Uncle Jack was my Mom’s brother and Uncle Israel was not, even though they both were brothers. Long after the crying stopped, I still could not make head or tails out of the family relationships.


"Zaide"/"Zayde" and "Bubbe" refer to Shlomo/Solomon Lutsky and Rebecca Lutsky (nee Kantotovich), Len's great-grandparents (pictured above). Bubbe Rebecca died in 1941. See link for more information about the Lutsky family. Uncle Jack was Israel's younger brother, only 7 years older than Len's mother.

693 Saratoga Ave was actually located between Blake & Dumont Aves.

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