FUNNY WOMEN #20: Holiday with Communists

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First, you and your grandmother decorate Easter eggs to put on the Seder plate. This is her Passover tradition. She will have decided that Seder plates “could use a little more color.” More often than not, she will also be drunk.

Since she is a self-proclaimed Communist, your grandmother will have a housekeeper, whom she will degradingly call “The Domestic.” She will treat “The Domestic” only marginally better than Stalin treated peasants. Your grandmother will have spent much of her life as a poor immigrant worker, and therefore have total contempt for them. She will order “The Domestic” to mix you both gin and tonics while she talks glowingly of Trotsky and you dunk hard-boiled eggs into the lurid, vinegary Easter-egg dyes from one of those cardboard decorating kits they sell at Waldbaum’s. When your grandfather remarks that it’s inappropriate to serve gin to a nine-year-old child, your grandmother will snap, “So what good is being liberated from slavery in Egypt if you can’t make your own goddamn granddaughter a cocktail?”

Later, after you have finished decorating the Seder plate with your homemade electric green, purple, and magenta Easter eggs, you will sit down to a meal that marks the only time in the entire year when your grandfather will be allowed to get a word in edgewise. To help prepare him for such a momentous occasion, he will have a special book. The book will be covered in Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil to simulate silver-plating. It is a reform Haggadah–the official book telling the story of Passover–but you and your cousins will be under the impression that it is a thesaurus designed to help reacquaint your hen-pecked grandfather with the English language. He will read from the book and begin to tell the story of the exodus of the Jews. He will do this for approximately three minutes before your grandmother starts interrupting and correcting him.

By the time he reaches the part about Moses dividing the Red Sea, the meal will have deteriorated into an argument about Socialism. Your grandmother will insist that Exodus is a metaphor: the Jews represent today’s proletarians and the Egyptians the bourgeoisie. “It’s all about controlling the means of production,” she says. “About overthrowing the pharaohs of capitalist oppression.”

Your father will no longer be able to contain himself. “Oh give me a break,” he’ll groan. But he will not say it exactly like this. He will also include an adjective derived from a colloquial term concerning human reproduction, he’ll explain later. It will be the highlight of the holiday for you. In fact, you and your brother will talk about it for several years to come: that time when dad said “fuck” to your Communist grandmother at Passover.

Your father and two uncles are now fighting with your grandmother. For one thing, Communists don’t have summer houses.  Communists don’t play the stock market.  Communists don’t regularly abuse the waiters at Barney Greengrass: The Sturgeon King. What’s more, they’ll point out, your grandmother hates authority. She hates manual labor. She hates anyone telling her what to do. And besides, if she really wants to talk about oppressed people, your Uncle Peter will add, “What about the Palestinians?”

At the mention of Palestine, all bedlam will break lose.  Your father, uncles, and grandmother will begin shouting at once. One uncle will call another “a gutless self-hating Jew,” while the other will accuse him of “Zionist fascist hypocrisy.” Your grandfather will sigh, put down the tinfoil-covered Haggadah, and begin eating his gefilte fish. Your mothers eye each other miserably. They have all married into this family and are now wondering why. Your aunt Sharon in particular, you notice, cannot stop staring at the Easter eggs.

Eventually, when order is restored, and the question finally gets asked “Why is this night different from all others?” you will look around the table. You will think that it really isn’t.

 

Happy Passover, everyone!

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Original art by Ilyse Magy.

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Susan Jane Gilman is the author of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dres, Kiss My Tiara, and Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. She has written commentary for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Ms. magazine, among others, and her fiction and essays have received several literary awards. Though she has lived most recently in Geneva, Switzerland, and Washington, D.C., she remains, eternally, a child of New York. More from this author →