By Ted Roberts, the Scribbler on the Roof
Her name was Rachel; his was Nathan. Separated by two barstools, they struggled through 20 minutes of awkward conversation before their last names appeared. Greenberg went with Rachel, Cohen with Nathan.
“Hey, you must be Jewish,” blurted out Nathan, a lonely bachelor whose only other date was Channel 15 on a cold, rainy night in April.
“I bet you’re Jewish, too,” she responded.
Well, things were looking up. Nathan now sat beside her, and she smiled at his aggressive move. He’s Jewish, no stranger, she thought.
“What a night for two Jewish buckaroos to be sitting in a western bar in the middle of Manhattan,” Rachel said. “It’s the first night of Passover, you know.”
“Yeah. I’m afraid I’ve neglected ‘my heritage,’ as my father puts it. He lives here in the city, only a few blocks down 57th. My family has a seder every year. They sit around the table, sing childish songs, stuff themselves on a five-course meal, and wait for Elijah, the heavenly visitor, to drop by. I go to a bar. Usually the one over on Eighth and 52nd. This year my mood took me here. Don’t know why. It’s a heck of a coincidence that I’m sitting next to you.”
“Well, I’m alone in the city. My family is back home in Louisville, Kentucky. Like yours, about now they’re sitting down to a huge meal with a week’s supply of calories and cholesterol. Kosher but still deadly. And I’m sure they’re singing silly songs, as you put it. Wish I was there.”
“How seriously do they play out the Elijah game? You know the legend. His visit to every Jewish home on seder night. I remember my old man. He’d put down his wineglass, get all serious and open the front door. ‘Hey, Pop,’ the 8-year-old who was then me would shout, ‘if the ubiquitous Elijah can pop up at 6 million Jewish homes in a single night, he can get through that wood-paneled front door without your help. A decent burglar can do it in a few minutes. Why not challenge the prophet?’ My old man hated it.”
An old gentleman at the end of the bar looked up with a pained expression.
“I guess so,” Rachel said. “Sure, I know the Elijah story. Our rabbi calls it a Midrash, a rabbinic parable, which elevates it a level or two above a legend. It’s one of those unifying articles of faith that every Jew, even the lost ones, enjoys believing. A sweet story, you know. In fact, my rabbi believes that besides visiting many millions of seders on the first night of Pesach, he’s there on Passover night wherever two or more Jews are together.”
She had been a little loud. She noticed that the old gentleman at the end of the bar had looked up from his drink, a dark purple wine in an ornate silver wineglass. Wonder what they call that drink? Wonder if you get to keep the glass?
Nathan, his arms folded loosely across his chest, had fixed his eyes on her as she talked. She has some spirit, he reflected. How his father’s eyes would gleam with passion to hear her declarations of faith.
Rachel brushed her hair back from her face. “Sorry, I got a little carried away — didn’t mean to preach to you. Let’s talk about something else.”
“No, no, I understand. That first night of Pesach is magic, my old man used to say. Makes you remember who you are. Every Jew, he used to say, had a progenitor, an ancestor, in his direct line who walked dry-shod on the bed of the Red Sea. If he had perished under Egyptian whips or drowned beneath the waves, I, for example, wouldn’t be sitting at this glitzy bar in 21st-century America talking to a young Jewish lady who believes in a resuscitated prophet who makes a million house calls on one spring night.”
“You know what?” she said. “I’d love to go to a seder tonight. And there’s no lamb shank, charoset, parsley or bitter herb at your place or mine, but there is at your father’s place. Why don’t we surprise him? We’ll be just in time to greet Elijah.”
Nathan blinked. And nodded. With her, he had a chance. So, linking his arm in hers, he set out on the longest journey any man can undertake: a journey home.
At the end of the bar, the dignified but poorly dressed patron held up his wine goblet. “There are no coincidences,” he whispered to the goblet. He glanced hurriedly at his watch and left. He had many calls to make.