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Grandmother's Lesson

A contemporary story by Elisa Davy Pearmain, based on the Jewish tradition of the Passover Seder.

Before telling the story, set out a goblet for Elijah and invite a child to go and open the meeting room's door. These actions are customary during a Passover Seder.

Once upon a time a there lived a brother and sister named Leah and Sam who were about your age. They were Jewish and Passover was their favorite holiday because there was so much to do. The day before the Seder they would help sweep the house clean of all bread crumbs, help set the table with special Passover dishes, and put an extra chair and cup for Elijah the Prophet. Then on the evening of Passover the relatives would arrive, and the Seder would begin just after sunset.

One year they came to a place near the end of the Seder where their father poured wine into Elijah the Prophet's goblet and asked the children to go and open the door for him. This was one of their favorite parts because it was so mysterious. They ran to the door and looked up and down the street. They didn't see anyone except the new children next door. They had just moved from Haiti and they were playing in their yard. No Elijah.

Leah came back to the table feeling sad. "Where is Elijah?" she asked. "Every year we pour him wine and open the door but he never comes. What does he look like? Will he ever come for Passover?"

Her parents looked at Grandmother.

[Here you may wish to put on a shawl or reading glasses — something to set the grandmother's character apart. If you are comfortable, you can slightly deepen your voice and slow the tempo to suggest an older person who is thinking back.]

"I have seen him," she said, "though I didn't realize it at first. Elijah comes in many disguises.

"I saw him long ago when I was about your age. One cold day just before Passover I was minding my younger brothers and sisters and my mother was resting. There was a knock at the door. I opened the door and there stood a beggar. He was dressed in rags and had an old sack over his back. I saw that his shoes were full of holes.

"'May I come in and sit by your fire and have some food?' he asked. 'I am so hungry and cold.'

"I knew we were not a wealthy family. My parents worked hard and still had barely enough for a simple meal, let alone a Passover feast. 'We have nothing extra for you,' I said, and I shut the door.

"I peeked out the window and saw the beggar walk to our next door neighbor's house. The neighbors had even less than we did, since the father had died. The mother worked very hard taking in sewing but she had many mouths to feed. I was sure that she would turn the beggar away. But I saw her open her door and invite him in.

"The next day, my mother was cooking our Passover meal and I was setting the table. Suddenly, there came a cry from the kitchen. Our dog had grabbed the chicken from the counter, knocking over the apple-raisin pudding my mother was preparing. When my father got home he found us sitting and crying. There was no money to buy another chicken or to make another desert to celebrate our Passover.

"We were still sitting and crying when we heard a knock on the door. It was our poor neighbor. She smiled at us and said, 'It seems that misfortune has come to you. I would like to invite you to celebrate Passover at our home this evening. I don't have much, as you know, but somehow I was able to make more matzoh balls than usual from my flour, and my soup kettle is full.' My parents thanked her and promised to bring the foods they had prepared that had not been spoiled.

"After our neighbor had gone, my mother asked me, 'Who was that that knocked at our door while I was resting yesterday?'

"I said, 'It was a beggar. I told him we didn't have enough and sent him away.'

"'Where did he go?' she asked.

"'To the neighbors,' I shrugged.

"My parents looked at each other. 'Do you know who that beggar was?' my father asked.

"'No.'

"'That was the prophet Elijah,' said my mother. 'He comes to see if we are helping to make the world a better place by being welcoming and generous.'

"We had a wonderful Passover with our neighbors. We found that when we shared from our kitchen, there was plenty for all. When it came to the part in the Seder where my father poured wine into the Elijah cup, I asked if I could go and open the door for Elijah. My parents smiled.

Grandmother finished the story by saying, "I didn't see Elijah again, but ever since then I try to treat everyone as if they were Elijah, and I find that there is always enough."

(Here, you might take off the shawl or glasses and return to being the narrator.)

When Grandmother's story was finished everyone was quiet. Then Sam asked, "What do you mean that you treat everyone like Elijah, Grandmother?"

Grandmother looked at them and asked a question: "What was the last kind and welcoming thing that you did for someone?"

"I helped my teacher to carry some books because she was tired," Sam answered.

"I invited the new girl at school to play with me and my friends at recess," said Leah.

"How did it feel?" asked Grandmother.

"Good." "Warm and happy," they replied.

"That is how it feels to treat everyone like Elijah," Grandmother said.

Then Leah jumped up from the table. "I think Elijah would like us to invite our neighbors to celebrate Passover with us. Can we invite them to our Seder?"

Mother and father looked at each other and smiled. The new neighbors weren't Jewish. They had recently moved to the neighborhood from Haiti . This was exactly the spirit of welcoming that Elijah taught. "Yes, go and tell them that if they would like to join our Seder meal, they will find our door open."

It seemed that Elijah did visit that Passover day after all!

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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