Hors d’oeuvre of affliction
April 27, 2005
Some years ago a friend of mine waxing rabbinic told me that during Pesach week, whilst eating charoset one must never say, ‘Mmmmm, I love charoset!”, because charoset, a delicious mixture of apples, honey, and/or nuts, dates figs, symbolises the mortar used by slaves to build the buildings of the fill in the blank here, and don’t take things too literally, you!
That sounded like a quirky but plausible Jewiish behaviourism to me and I decided to incorporate it into my narrative.
Yesterday evening, two friends of mine from Kampala were back in the Heimatt and fortune placed them at my dinner table. Oddly I didn’t feel much like cooking when I wrenched myself away from my work at 19h and I don’t know how I did, but I did somehow manage to slap something together for us to eat. It just wasn’t me not to want to cook for dear friends and somehow I convinced myself that it was OK to serve a ritual combination of matzah, charoset and bitter herbs (horseradish) as an hors d’oeuvre!
I show Alice and Lee how to do like the Jews do, make a little sandwich by piling the charoset and bitter herbs onto the matzah, how you take enough horseradish so that it causes you to shed at least one tear for the slaves that once were, for the slaves that still are, and finally, that even if you like the taste of the mixture, you’re not supposed to say so. Charoset stands for the mortar of the enslaved and we’re supposed to act like we hate it.
After the lengthy explanation I space out and Alice and Lee get to work making their own hors d’oeuvres with the materials provided, all the while telling me funny stories about the Amakula International Film Festival that they set up in Kampala last year. Alice takes a bite of her d’oeuvre, and with a pleading look on her face grasps her throat, pounds on her chest, shudders, starts looking frantically for her napkin as if she wants to spit in it, is barely able to swallow the mouthfull, slams her hand down hard on the table with a resounding BAM and pronounces, ‘YHhUCK!’
I am completely shocked. The combination of witnessing a cherished friend intensely dislike something that I’ve dished up, plus all the guilty feelings for not giving it my all earlier that evening, plus a little bit of wonderment thrown in because I’d never actually heard of someone not liking the ritual combination. It’s all just a bit too much. ‘What, you don’t like my cooking?’
Alice and Lee look at me with these puzzled looks on their faces and finally Alice musters, ‘But, didn’t you just say that…’
Doink. (Images are, charoset leftovers, an egg yolk that escaped under the table, and the bowl of special kosher for passover fox noodles that I prepared for poor Alice and Lee.)