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Passover’s Perennial No-Show

At the Seder, we open the door for Elijah. As a child, I thought he’d actually appear. Then I grew up, and anticipation faded into resignation.

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My father’s walk back to the table from the front door was slow, steady. “Well, let’s proceed,” Papa said, looking to my mother and turning a page in the Haggadah. But our disappointment in God and in peace and in destiny didn’t have time to settle—the younger kids had finished preparing their annual Passover performance.

They came trumpeting down the stairs, holding boxes of stage props, shouting for the grown-ups to be quiet already—they were just about to start their Pesach show. Years before, as the eldest, I had been the director of the holiday performances at family gatherings; I’d write the script several days in advance, boss the younger kids around, and scold them for not remembering their lines. Now I sat and smiled demurely at the adults’ table, but it felt like yesterday that I had stood there, too, in biblical robes, stepping carefully through an imaginary Red Sea into a Promised Land.

The adults laughed as my cousins and sisters performed their antics. Here were Moses and Pharaoh, in clothing made of bed sheets, badminton rackets serving as shepherds’ staffs. Two blue blankets were the Red Sea; the smallest cousins walked between them into freedom. And then, the conclusion, a look to the future: My youngest sister came out, riding a toy horse and wearing a long white beard—the Messiah.

We clapped and cheered on the little theater troupe. What a clever performance! And then we finished the Seder. I smiled weakly and sang the conclusion in Hebrew, the same words Jews have been singing for thousands of years: Next year in Jerusalem. I realized, with discomfort, that I was tired of it.

“Such a lovely phrase,” my great-aunt remarked. Yes, lovely. These enlightened Kiev-born engineers and Kharkov-born teachers, physicists and doctors, were now sitting at a Seder table in New Jersey, yearning for a bearded Messiah to come. They were suddenly somber when they remembered Jerusalem and her white limestone alleys. As I looked around, I noticed that there was something heartrending in their faces.

At 17, that Seder night, I went through the Diaspora Jew’s rite of passage. I silently understood the duality of anticipation and resignation; how to whisper breathily about the promise of peace, while glancing back at Jewish history, amused with my own naïveté. I learned to say “Jerusalem” with a millennia-old sigh and faraway eyes, just as my ancestors had always done. And when the relatives sat and drank tea, talked and laughed—not about Elijah or the future, but perhaps about politics and history and anecdotes, as they had always done, I learned to join them, behind a door left only slightly ajar.


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the point about messianism is the waiting. when the messiah comes the challenges life loses its bite.

Marnie Heyn says:

In my home, we have to actually go outside and ask all we meet, “Will you come and eat with us?” I’ve met the most wonderful people this way, and the best pay-off is two generations of children who respond to strangers by greeting them, “Come, eat.”

Charlie Seelig says:

But in a sense, having invited Elijah in, he is there, just in a way you were not expecting.

You write very nicely but what is the point….that while you feel an emotional pull toward the concept of a Messiah a part of you finds it one big joke?
.That would be a typical Tablet conclusion, leaving no room for faith, for mystery, for things we haven’t experienced that fail to conform to scientific theory but that have sustained our anscestors and if not for the overlay of hip cynicism should sustain us. I really hope that you don’t go off the derech. You sound like a sensitive young woman anda very good writer. Dont let your desire to be hip obscure your sense of wonder. Bigger people that you and I believed in the Messiah without feeling the need to smirk.

Only Partly a Troll says:

@Carol, the Jewish people were sustained not by mystery, but by faith and continued questioning (and answering) – perhaps you would call this ‘hip cynicism’. If it were not for our constant questioning of what we are taught, we would certainly have died out or conformed as other nations have.

Someone says:

Beautifully written. Great point.
For those who missed the author’s point, I believe her intention was to draw you in to the complexity we face as Modern Orthodox Jews. She highlights the difficulty in finding a balance between two conflicting worlds. She eloquently portrays what most of us feel, but cannot express, are scared to express, or live in denial of.
Yashar Koach!

I really like Marnie’s post about her tradition of inviting in strangers. Perhaps Elijah has come and you failed to see him, hear him or recognize him. The prophet Malachi promised to send us Elijah the prophet before (in anticipation of) the great and awesome day of The Holy One, and he would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers, so that the land would not be cursed with destruction.

Judy Herscovitch says:

If Elijah doesn’t come, then who the heck is lowering the level of wine in his wine goblet? That was always a sure measure of his presence!

John 1:29-30
The next day he (John) saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! “This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’

Hamsa says:

This was a fantastic article. Very personal. I have to say that even with often inevitable resignation…your strength is that you dare to hope at all. Shalom.

Judy Herscovitch is right. Elijah always shows up at our Seders for my children, and the emptied wineglass is proof. And until the Messiah comes, he will continue to appear when needed.

Shmoo Snook says:

@Carol What is your major malfunction? Have people been disparaging you for your lack of hipness or something? You’ve mischacterized the nature and content of this piece. You hope she doesn’t “go off the derech”? What an arrogant and condescending thing to say. Bigger people than you or I have experienced “Moshiach fatigue,” and it doesn’t mean we’ve given up believing in Moshiach. The only “smirking” going on here is in your imagination, if not on your face.

Roalnd says:

It says at the end of the article “Avital Chizhik is a writer living in New York City and a frequent contributor to Haaretz.” and I thought “Avital, this is not the diaspora of yesteryear. For 66 years already you can just hop on a plane and in 9 hours be in Jerusalem, the dream of our ancestors for 2 millenia. Come home. Join us in Jerusalem before Shavuos. Leave the post Zionism of Haaretz behind in NY and help us make the Zionist dream a reality. if you will it it is not (just) a dream.”


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Passover’s Perennial No-Show

At the Seder, we open the door for Elijah. As a child, I thought he’d actually appear. Then I grew up, and anticipation faded into resignation.

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