Photo Credit: Jewish Press

He took one look at Yankel and Yankel could feel his hatred. “A yeshiva bochur,” he sniffed. Despite the caterer’s hatred, Yankel knew well enough a tortured soul when he saw one. He was still in the camps, this fellow, working himself to the bone. It’s the only thing that kept him sane. Yankel had heard that this man had two sons. One a rabbi, and the other became a doctor, but he would have no nachas, no satisfaction. The doctor-son was 39 and still not married, a Columbia cardiologist. He was a homosexual, at least that is what was whispered. His other son was a rabbi in Smithtown, Long Island. The synagogue was the architectural equivalent of a baked potato and the people Lilliputians. They said they had no idea how to hold the siddur, the prayer book. Most of the people in his synagogue just held it upside down.

Leah’s father looked at the menu. “I want two soup choices: vegetable and mushroom barley.” He looked at Yankel. “What do you think? Maybe you want vegetable and chicken? Ach–” He made a face and waved his hand. “How about something better?”


The crafty caterer perked up in his chair: He knew he had a fish on the line. Yankel could see it all, with his new eyes that took in everything these days. This man with ice-blood in his veins, a bit like the Jewish grim reaper, was going to take his prospective father-in-law for a ride, a soaking. And for what? The caterer could be counted upon to put down a piece of gefilte fish with a carrot on a plain white plate with a leaf of grieving romaine lettuce that was as tired as your grandmother.

Yankel marveled at Leah’s father’s naiveté. How could a shrewd man be so foolish? Didn’t he know this man wanted to draw blood? Maybe the old man wanted to be drained. Well, the caterer was going to fleece him, all right. Yankel could see it in the survivor’s face. His mouth was watering. “I have a potato leek soup and pumpkin, but it costs you $5 a person more. On account of the fact that I have it made special. I have a cook a heimishe, one of our own, I knew him in Europe.”

“One of our own” all right. Yankel had heard of this cook – rumor had it that he had been a Kapo in Bergen-Belsen and Yankel felt nauseous in his stomach at the thought of eating his food.

The caterer went on, “You know, he makes the usual stuff, but this man, from Manhattan, he’s a chef.” He kissed his bunched fingertips. “I could have him make the whole chasuna for you, but I am sure this is more money than you want to spend. How much? He’s too expensive. I wouldn’t even suggest…” The caterer was even more animated now.

“How much is it, you ask? Twenty-five dollars more per person. He’s the very best. I have nothing here for you to taste. He makes only special. I don’t have his stuff lying around, but I’ll have supper delivered to your house tonight. You can taste for yourself. Worth it every penny.”

“Mr. Spielman.” Yankel turned to face Leah’s father. “For what do you need to spend this money? It’s not worth it. Leah doesn’t care about this, and neither do I.”

Spielman raised his right hand. “I waited to spend this money my whole life.”

The caterer smiled with broken teeth – Yankel saw in him a greedy devil, but to Leah’s father, he was a generous benefactor. Spielman couldn’t have been more pleased. He was elated as he walked out with Yankel. Host du vissen? Er is doch a frumer yid, noch als. “Did you know? He’s a pious Jew to boot!”

Got’s gonnif is auch a gonnif,” Yankel said. A pious thief is also a thief.

On the drive back Yankel was beside himself. He had wanted to stop his future-father-in-law, but he couldn’t. He was going to drop another five or ten thousand on this wedding for no reason at all. How different Leah’s father was from his own father. Mr. Spielman worked hard, scrimped and saved too. Buys for himself a Dodge Dart; worse, he wants now to buy himself a Plymouth Aspen, but makes a wedding now and begs to get fleeced. To each his own, perhaps. Still, it was embarrassing to watch. He kept thinking that Leah was going to blame him. Perhaps this is why she asked him to go along, as though he could stop the old man.

Far from being perturbed, on the way home the older man seemed to go into a dream state. Yankel glanced at him every now and then, taking his eyes off the road. He had the physique of a young boy, maybe the young boy he was when the war broke out. There was modesty to him, no question. Yankel saw a man who was entitled to nothing, but in his own way, he was willing to have everything. Also, something of the grandiose, it had to come out in every person – maybe that is why so many survivors were making these grand monuments everywhere and these big celebrations. Just a few years ago, the Holocaust became a business. Memoirs, novels, museums were appearing everywhere. Yad Vashem was the monument that all heads of state who visited Israel paid homage to. Kurt Waldheim, the Nazi, was even asked to put on a yarmulke and had to go kneel at the shrine of persecution.

It was human to do these things, but these were not men of faith, these museum builders, not serious men of the Talmud. They didn’t do silly things like this. It was the sentiment of the plain folk, the rabble – even the rabbis knew there were times it had to be indulged. So we light candles at Temple Emanuel and listen to a constipated choir make believe they are Protestant. Ronald Reagan lights a candle and then makes a speech about Bitburg. It has all become an ugly show. There is no business like Shoah-business. Yankel wanted to find out from the mouth of a survivor what he really thought: Were these things really heartfelt or just dark theater?

“What do you think of these Holocaust ceremonies?” Yankel asked his father-in-law.

“You can’t imagine, you can’t imagine. Your generation can’t imagine.”

“But,” Yankel asked, “what about the ceremonies in New York, Temple Emanuel, Yad Vashem?”

“You don’t know,” the older man said and he waved his hand. “You can’t imagine what we went through. You don’t know.” He simply tuned out and abruptly changed the conversation. “Zait azoi gut, Yankel, could you be so kind as to come with me to Kings Highway to buy fruit?”

Leah’s father was a regular at a fruit store called Fruits-a-Plenty. He sprinted out of the car and grabbed a shopping cart into which he promptly placed watermelon, a cantaloupe, and pounds of grapes. He passed by the blueberries. “These blueberries are from Chile and the grapes too, but we’ll take them. M’darf haben trauben un yagades, grapes and blueberries.” He also put apples and oranges into the cart together with eggplant, sweet potatoes, avocados, and onions. “In Romania we used to eat the onions raw. An apple is besser vi kichele, an apple is better than cake. Besser machen a hoetz vi a mezonos, better to eat fruit than wheat.” He flashed a smile with a young boy’s uneven teeth.

(To be continued)

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