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Monday
Mar302015

My Pesach WITH SRULIK ON MY SHOULDERS

When the editor texted me asking for a column about a special seder in my life, the first thought I had was that I could whip up an article like that in a second. How many words? I texted him back. 600/700 he responded. No problem, Ill send it, I wrote him.

Shneur ChavivI usually don’t respond that way because I am not a fast writer. It has happened that I’ve gazed at the computer for an entire night and written one line, so to promise a column during a week that we were having a hachnasas Seifer Torah, a dinner, had to clean for Pesach, and give out food baskets, could have been an irresponsible commitment. However, as someone whose last seder with his parents was at the age of fifteen (excluding one year when we hosted them at a public seder in Ramat Aviv) and had near twenty public s’darim behind him starting with one for new immigrants in the outskirts of Lud, New York, India (a local community), India (tourists), and northern Tel Aviv, I immediately had flashbacks that made me think I could knock this off in no time.

But then I said to myself, one minute. If I write about the woman who burst into tears when the children recited the Ma Nishtana and about the older couple who made a proper seder for the first time in their lives, then I would be telling about their special seder, not mine.

I called my source of inspiration and told her that I needed to write about the most special seder of my life. She said, “Write about Srulik.”

Srulik is our fourth son out of seven. Since he was a baby, he had a very powerful presence. You can’t miss him. He also makes sure that nobody overlooks him.

Some years ago, we decided for the first time that we would not run a public seder. We left the work to others and instead of that, we planned on a seder at home to which we would invite families who were mekuravim.

We opened an extra-long table and had four families present, including us. But to us, it was all for Hila and Noam (pseudonyms) or, more precisely, for Noam.

Hila and Noam were a delightful couple. She had become a baalas t’shuva a few years earlier and lived a fully religious life. Noam was completely different. They respected one another and had a wonderful relationship but when it came to Judaism, Noam just wasn’t interested. Hila did not pressure him; she just prayed about him at every opportunity.

So when he said yes to our invitation, everyone was happy. We knew there was no second chance to make a first impression and we put work into every detail so as to make the best impression on Noam.

We poured the wine, gave out the Hagados, and began. Now and then, we sang familiar tunes and we offered explanations and short stories throughout.

Noam, who at first was sitting quietly, began to open up a bit. He even joined the singing a little. Hila sat near him and her face shone with joy. The atmosphere at the table was terrific until …

Srulik felt that the show was being stolen from him and he decided to take it back. It started with some mischief. I tried to ignore him but he reacted with more challenging behavior. My wife began to signal me with her eyes, “Give him attention; he’s doing that because you’re not giving him attention.”

“Darling Srulik, come sit near Abba,” I played it cool while I mustered up my biggest smile as I tried to minimize any damage by attempting to paper over the crisis as it occurred.

But his reaction was a shoe which flew from one end of the living room and landed right in the center of the table, missing the ke’ara by a few centimeters and spilling wine everywhere.

At this point, my attempt to act as though all was normal was utterly pathetic. I panicked. I knew I had to take action and that the solution was lots of attention and love, but I also knew I had to set boundaries and I did not want him to feel that this was the way to gain attention and empathy. At the same time, I could not lose Noam and the guests and had to continue the seder. I was stuck.

But Srulik had his own time-frame. The time he had designated for me to analyze the situation and make a pedagogical decision had passed, as far as he was concerned, and he decided to move on to the next prank. He climbed behind the back of Noam’s chair and jumped on his head. Srulik is, boruch Hashem, a hefty kid and although he was not yet three it still wasn’t pleasant having him jump on your head.

Noam seemed stunned. Fortunately, Srulik quickly realized that Noam wasn’t the problem, I was. So he left Noam and focused his attacks on me. “Okay, so now we uncover the matza,” I tried to continue the program with the nonstop attempts of the little revolutionary to rappel off my head.

Then we got to Dayeinu. I took the opportunity and stood up. I lifted Srulik up on my shoulders and we began singing Dayeinu as I danced with him, turning right and left, dancing and singing for a long time as everyone sang along and clapped. Srulik began to smile again.

We finished dancing. I was huffing and puffing, red in the face and sweating. I sat back down and tried to breathe more evenly but Srulik remained on my shoulders. That is how we continued the seder with Srulik sitting on my shoulders, viewing everything from above, all smiles, receiving a piece of matza now and then until he was completely calm.

When everyone went home and the children were asleep, my wife and I sat down to review the evening. We felt that our darling Srulik had ruined the seder. What did Noam think now? Where were those platitudes about religious families with well cared for children who behaved and sat nicely at the table?

The next day, in the women’s section of the Chabad House, Hila came over to my wife after the davening. “Deena, wow, it was fantastic last night. I must give you a big thank you, Noam enjoyed it so much, what an atmosphere… But the thing he doesn’t stop talking about is Srulik, how adorable, what energy, and how calm Shneur was, taking him on his shoulders, how nicely they danced. Deena, I’m telling you, it was an unforgettable evening.”

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