Wednesday, April 16, 2008


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

I recently walked into the Print House, an art/framing store in Lakewood. I was perusing the sale items when a particular painting stopped me in my tracks. It grabbed me in a strange way and I stood there studying it, unable to move on.

I asked Naftali Kovalenko, the proprietor, what he was thinking when he bought that painting. Who in Lakewood could relate to it? What did he think he was going to be able to do with it?

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “You never know. Someone may like it.”

The painting depicted a still life of a Pesach kitchen, on Erev Pesach sixty years ago, with art so realistic that you could just smell the Pesach aromas. A brass candelabra, a box of Horowitz Margereten matzos, Manischewitz matzoh meal and wine set the tone, with a blue-box pushka, Diamond Crystal kosher salt, apples, nuts and other Seder items creating that special Erev Pesach ambience we know so well. A hock messer, wooden spoon, eggs and a generic paperback Haggadah completed the picture.

The painting is bright and happy, but for the viewer with a sense of history, the holiday spirit it evokes is mixed with a poignant sadness.

It is so charming, and so real, you can picture the hubbub going on in that small kitchen; everyone scurrying about, preparing for Yom Tov and the grand Seder set to begin in a few hours. Decades ago, that very scene unfolded in countless Jewish homes in cities and towns across this vast country.

And that is what is so sad about it. It represents a lost world. The simple bubbes and Yiddishe mammas who would prepare the Seder as depicted in the picture are no more. The women who would cook borscht in the pot so vividly displayed in the painting aren’t cooking borscht anymore. It is doubtful if their grandchildren even know what borscht is.

The world of simple Jews who hung on to the traditions of the past has shrunk terribly. Many of us don’t know anyone like that. Those of us who are older can point to some senior citizens and say, “This is mamesh what So-and-So’s kitchen must have looked like.” Chances are, however, that the person’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren have kitchens far removed from the traditional pre-Yom Tov tumult. Their kitchens are bare of the lofty aromas of borscht, chicken soup, charoses and the chrein of maror.

They probably do hold some sort of Seder, with relatives within a radius of 90 miles driving in for the ceremony. Perhaps they celebrate the Jewish people’s liberation from Egyptian bondage in some fashion. Perhaps the event is nothing more than a chance for a family get-together.

It is sad to ponder the rupture of a three-thousand-year legacy.

But there is a flip side.

While most of their grandchildren have strayed far from their grandparents’ moorings, for some the picture is dramatically different.

Some have grandchildren who today are living Torah lives in Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak, Lakewood, Monsey, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Dallas, Los Angeles and wherever else religious Jews live.

Many of the grandchildren of those who were moser nefesh to hold on to the traditions of their home are not tested in the way their grandparents were. The people who fought to keep kashrus and Shabbos to the best of their abilities in small town America and in the big cities have been rewarded with progeny who take it all for granted.

Their grandchildren look at this painting and wonder what Horowitz Margereten matzos are. They never heard of them. They never saw Pesach matzos that aren’t shemurah. This painting would be foreign to them. Manischewitz wine is a brand that they have never partaken of. They’ve never seen it in their home or anywhere else.

The beauty of this painting sitting in Lakewood is that due to the loyal perseverance of those Jews from an earlier generation, the Torah community continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Every year, more and more children are born who will never know that there was a time that the whole neighborhood didn’t eat shemurah matzoh, because they couldn’t, as it wasn’t available.

Every year, more people take for granted that you can walk into stores such as the one next to this framing/art store, Wine on the Nine, and buy any kind of wine your heart desires, from every corner of the globe.

Today, Malaga kosher wine that is so thick you can cut with a knife is forgotten because you can buy Bordeaux and other wines whose names you can’t pronounce. You read on their labels how they have aromas of blackberries and apricots coupled with cinnamon, and how they go well with brie cheese. You read that and smirk, wondering who they write that for and who they are trying to impress.

We have come so far as a people that we take all this all for granted and forget that there was a time when Pesach and shemiras hamitzvos required true mesiras nefesh.

Are we better off than they were? I sure hope so.

I was in a different store last week. Grand Sterling on 13th Avenue in Boro Park is an emporium of silver. The people who own the store and run it, the Rubin and Kizelnick families, are as outstanding as the wares they sell to beautify Shabbos and Yom Tov. It is a pleasure to walk in there and talk to them even if I don’t buy anything.

The people who work there are also special. Heimishe Hungarian women from ah mol. I was with three of my sons and we got into a conversation with Mrs. Goldner, a saleslady there. We were talking about how many children I have, the regular small talk. She closed her eyes and told me that she came from a large family. She became very emotional. She said that her family “was ten boys and six girls.” There was a long silent pause and several tears. “Hitler left us with three.”

As many times as you encounter this reminder from the not-so-distant past, it is so difficult to bear. You realize what these people went through; you see the tzaar they still struggle to suppress that must have haunted their days and nights as they went about rebuilding their lives on this blessed continent.

But then you see how successful the survivors have been, and how far they have come from the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, and you appreciate what you have. You look around at the plenty that we have and the relative ease with which we are able to lead our lives and you recognize how much you have to be thankful for.

You put on your kittel, choose a favorite Haggadah, raise your becher and recite Kiddush, surrounded by your loving family, shemurah matzos, malchusdikeh wine and grand silver. You make the Shehecheyanu. You think of Mrs. Goldner’s brothers and sisters, and you think of your own relatives who aren’t with you. You think of the people from generations and worlds gone by who gave all they had in order to celebrate Yom Tov.

You shed tears of happiness and joy that you are alive here and now. You thank Hashem for all his goodness and kindness, and you prepare to sit like a king, waiting for Eliyahu Hanovi to come and say that the long, bitter golus is over, and Moshiach is here.

May it happen this Pesach.

Chag kosher vesomeach.


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