Monday, September 29, 2008
Happy Day of Remembrance
Editor's Note: Thank you for joining us over the past 8 days in a celebration leading up to today, Monday, September 29th, the Day of Remembrance--a day when around noon Mountain Time, Jews celebrate the Feast of Trumpets beginning at sundown in Jerusalem. A collection of related Day of Remembrance posts can be found by scrolling down the side bar to the section titled: Celebrating Ha Zikaron.
Today Jews celebrate the latter-day gathering of Israel and ask God to remember His covenants with Israel. David G. Woolley and the Top of the Morning staff happily proclaim that gathering began with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon on this day in 1827. Over the ensuing 181 years it has become a marvelous work and a wonder (Isaiah 29:14).
The exchange of greeting cards is one of the more recent traditions associated with this feast day and we offer this cyber-greeting card pictured above along with this short excerpt from Day of Remembrance highlighting a typical 19th century Feast of Trumpets celebration. We hope you enjoy our final Day of Remembrance celebration installment.
Mazeltov. To Life. Happy Day of Remembrance to all.
—September 12th, 1825
Old City of Jerusalem
Avram Weiss sat at the head of the table. It was an uncomfortable place, not because the chair wasn’t constructed out of the finest hardwood and certainly not because the seat was cushioned by hand-sewn leather covers imported from the west. This chair was uncomfortable because Avram never should have agreed to eat the ha-Zikkaron feast in the home of Reuben Kessler—a Sephardic Jew. He should be eating in the kosher comfort of their two-room apartment in the lower city in company with his daughter—his only family left on earth—not sitting at the head of the table where Mr. Kessler should be seated. It didn’t matter that the clock maker insisted Avram sit here and preside over the meal. Something odd was going on. He could feel it in the air and he didn’t like it, not one bit.
There was no reason not to enjoy the meal. They were attended by a maid to serve the food, a butler pouring wine and a cook with a delicate touch—at least this first course of tomato and cucumber soup had the perfect balance of garlic, onion, rosemary and basil. The dinning room was bright with holiday candles lit at dawn and the flickering light mixed with the light of the kerosene chandelier hanging over the table and making a more festive sight than in all his years celebrating ha-Zikkaron in Russia. The vase in the center of the table was filled with red and yellow roses and beside each place setting of silverware, crystal and china stood a greeting card of the most exquisite making, trimmed in gold and silver and wishing Avram and his daughter a most happy New Year. Avram removed the caftan from his head and the long earlocks fell down past his gaunt cheeks and mixed with the gray hair of his beard. He brushed them back and started on the soup.
Danny sat on the window side of the table, the large frame silhouetting his long body with the darkness of nightfall and the glow of a full moon. The boy hardly touched the first course. He was dressed in a fine gray suit, his black bowtie perfectly affixed on the turned-up collar of his elegant shirt, the white cloth reaching up around his neck. A silver spoon hung from his hand, the end of it still clean and shimmering in the candlelight without the least bit of broth spoiling the reflection. He stared across the table at Katerina and there was good reason to stare at the girl. Before they left home for this meal his daughter insisted on painting her lips with a deep red lipstick reserved for the most important occasions. She wore a black dress with a border of red, yellow and blue pansies embroidered across the hem—a dress she purchased from the seamstress with money saved for nearly a year. A red rose decorated the part in her black hair and she wore a white lace around her neck, the ends of it swaying with each of her hurried glances, looking up at Danny and smiling before going back to stir her spoon through her soup. But for all the girl’s stirring, she’d not taken a solitary bite. Her dress was kosher, all of it well within the modesty required of hassidic Jews, but Avram couldn’t keep from leaning over his bowl, waving his spoon between the two youths and telling them that—
“We should bless the main course.” Reuben Kessler sat at the opposite end of the table, working his spoon through the green chives and mushrooms topping his soup. He finished the last of his soup, and handed the bowl to the maid. The woman disappeared into the kitchen and returned with two loaves of fresh baked white hallot bread. It was prepared exactly as it should be, with the double strands of dough twisting together reminding them of the binding hope that the prayers they offered today at Synagogue—the ones asking God to awaken to a remembrance of his covenants with Israel—would reach heaven. The twisted ladder bread announced that on this holiday each year men were judged—some destined to climb and prosper while others were condemned to descend and fail. A bounty of confections, cookies and cakes sat on the side table waiting for them to finish their main course, and the smell of simmering meats filtered in from the kitchen and there was no doubt how heaven viewed the clock maker. It was certain Mr. Kessler was judged to climb and prosper in this New Year like he had for so many years before.
Reuben said, “Avram, will you offer the blessing?”
Avram tore away a piece of hallot bread and dipped it in the small bowl of honey beside his plate before raising his gaze to the ceiling and quickly reciting, “May it be thy will, O Lord, to renew unto us a happy and pleasant year.” The others dipped their bread in the honey and repeated the words of his prayer, and as soon as they finished the maid and the cook burst through the doors, the women humming a happy melody and serving the main course—brown trout from the Sea of Galilee. It was just as it should be for the celebration of ha-Zikhron, the fish reminding them of fruitfulness and plenty, but since Danny Kessler’s interest in his daughter was far more than he wanted for the girl, Avram raised his wine glass in the air, held it out in front of the boy to keep him from seeing into his daughter’s eyes and offered a toast that this baked fish with all its garnish make for them a year of plenty. There was not a word about fruitfulness. That was a toast reserved for a newly-wed couple and there was no one at this table who needed neither a wedded blessing nor the promise of such. Avram said, “May it be a year of prosperity for all.”
Avram started into his fish and Mr. Kessler joined him, but Danny and Katerina hardly touched their food. Avram had to say something, but what? They’d already spoken of the weather, offered wishes for a prosperous New Year and sang the songs of the season—and oh how the Kessler’s could sing. It was no wonder Reuben was cantor at the Synagogue and if Danny ever gave up his trumpet playing, he could follow in his father’s footsteps without a single lesson in the art of voice. Avram said, “What day is it, boy?”
Danny turned in his chair, but his gaze remained fixed on Katerina. “What was that, sir?”
“The day boy. What day is it?”
“ha-Zikhron, sir.” Danny didn’t look at him.
“The Greek date.” Avram held up the calendar Danny prepared for the coming year and shook it until he drew Danny’s attention away from his daughter. “In the west, what day is it?”
“It’s right here, sir.” Danny shuffled through the papers and found the month of September hidden among the pages of the calendar. He set his forefinger on the 12th day. “The holiday falls on the twelfth of September this year.”
“Certain you are of it?”
Katerina said, “Papa, when have any of Danny’s calculations been wrong?”
Avram straightened the papers into a neat stack. “The calendar, Danny. Did I pay you for it?”
“It’s a gift, sir.”
“Cards we exchange on ha-Zikkaron.” Avram lifted the gold embossed greeting card off the table. “Not gifts.”
Danny said, “I was hoping to speak to you about that before dinner.”
“A fine job you’ve done with the calendar this year.” Avram reached into his pocket, searching for the money to pay for the boy’s work.
“Papa, let him explain.” Katerina reached across the table and patted Danny on the hand. “Go on. Ask him.”
Danny tapped the tabletop with his finger, his gaze shifting between her and Avram.
Reuben said, “I’ll fetch another bottle of wine from the cellar.”
“Stay here Mr. Kessler.” Katerina turned back to Danny. “Go on, everyone’s listening.”
Avram said, “What are we to listen to?”
Danny said, “I was going to speak to you in private, sir, but…”
“A few errors I can forgive, son.” Avram held up the calendar.
“The dates are fine, but in an odd sort of way it is about the calendar.” Danny took it from him, turned past September, October and November, the papers rustling in the silence of the dinning room. He kept sorting through the months until he came to the end and set the calendar on the table next to Avram’s plate. “Here it is. I calculated the date for next year’s celebration.”
Avram adjusted his glasses on the end of his nose and leaned over the calendar to see the date for the first day of the seventh Jewish month one year from then, when they would again celebrate ha-Zikkaron. Below Danny’s careful pen strokes recording the day for the celebration was a note indicating the details of the wedding of Katerina Weiss, daughter of Avram to Danny Kessler, son of Reuben. Avram removed his glasses, wiped the lens on his cuff and replaced them on his nose, but his rubbing didn’t change the words. They were still there in bold black ink. The wedding was set for mid-day under the canopy in the gardens of the Sephardic Synagogue where the Kesslers prayed every Shabbat.
Avram handed the calendar back to Danny.
“Papa.” Katerina set her fork down. “Hear Danny out.”
“Mr. Weiss.” Danny forced a smile. “Ever since the first day I met your daughter I’ve not thought of much else.”
“Too young you are for this.”
“We’re both nineteen.” Katerina worked the napkin between her thumb and fingers.
Danny said, “I met Katerina two years ago today, do you remember, sir?”
“How can I forget?” Avram raised his hands in the air. “Every day my daughter reminds me of it.”
Danny said, “We thought it a good thing to marry on the anniversary of that day.”
Katerina said, “We’ll both be twenty years old by then, Papa.”
“A good boy, you are Danny. A fine clock maker and the calendar, you calculate it better than any in the city.” Avram reached his hands toward Danny and Reuben. “You are my good Sephardic friends, but we’re not like you. We have our traditions, our ways of doing things.” He turned his gaze over the fine furnishings in the dining room. “We came from the ghetto’s of Russia. Little money we have and less education. We know no other way.”
Katerina came around the table. “You don’t have to answer Danny right now.”
“There’s no other answer, daughter.”
“Please Mr. Kessler.” Danny came down the other side of the table. “Allow me to marry your daughter.”
“Like oil and water we are.” Avram stood and took Katerina by the hand. He nodded to Reuben, thanked him for the lovely dinner before removing the napkin from under his collar and backing away from the table, leaving the half eaten fish and the untouched garnish on his plate. Katerina resisted, but Avram would not relent. He kept a firm hold on her trembling hand and before turning into the hall and going out the front doors to the street he leaned his head in next to Katerina and said, “We don’t mix with other Jews.”
Join author David G. Woolley at his Promised Land Website.