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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

It was the First Night of Passover. Sandi was excited, all three of her children would be home for the Seder. Esther the oldest and her two children. Esther’s divorce had been final earlier this year. Judah the middle child with his wife and daughter and Charles the youngest who was bringing with him a guest.


Sandi was hoping that Charles would finally settle down. He had just turned 30. This was the first time that he ever brought a date to the Seder. Esther had met Charles’ new friend and she would be at the house early. Sandi decided that she would sit her eldest down and find out about this young lady.

Sandi loved the traditions. If they had to define themselves Sandi would say that she and Mitch were Reformed Jews. The kids were all Bar and Bat Mitzvahed, and when they got old enough so would the grandchildren.

*****************************************************************************

“Esther,” said Sandi, “I’m so excited, tell me about this young lady that your brother is bringing home.” Charles’ privacy was dear to him and rarely discussed his social life with his parents.

“Mom, hasn’t he told you anything?”

“No, what should he have told me?”

“Well, Mom, she is lovely and terribly bright. She’s working on her doctorate.”

“How, wonderful. What’s her name.”

“It’s Anne.”

A look came over Sandi’s face, for she knew why her daughter was hesitating. The girl wasn’t Jewish. This had never occurred to Sandi. She wasn’t upset. She wasn’t happy. She was numb. She knew how Mitch would react. She had heard him many times, “That boy has always made me proud.” This time would be no different.

How would the rest of the family react? How would her mother react? Sandi’s Mother, Sophie, was the last remaining grandparent. She was a tough, judgmental mother. She had not mellowed. This worried Sandi.

Sandi was also surprised by her lack of a reaction. She knew that she’d never react like her friend Bea. Bea disowned her child when she married out of the religion. She’s never seen her grandchildren. That made no sense to Sandi. She thought about it and said, “Esther, he’s my child and I love him. It’s not what I wanted for him, but if this is the girl he has chosen, I will support him.”

**************************************************************************
“Mom, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Anne.” The young lady was just as described. Tall, dark hair, slim. Esther thought this girl could be a model. She was shocked by the diamond on the girl’s hand.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Mrs. Levy. Charlie has told me so much about you.”

Sandi was taken aback. The statement seemed incongruous. Charles rarely spoke of his private life and never was called Charlie. “Welcome, to our home, my dear. It’s so nice to have you here.’

“This is my husband Mitch, and the woman on the couch is my Mother.”

Charles could have predicted his parents reactions. His dad hugged him, kissed Anne and insisted she call him Mitch. His Mom was a bit distant, he could understand this, but was clearly coming to terms with the situation. The hardest part was yet to come, Grandma Sophie.

Sophie Gerwitz was born in the Bronx in 1919. She lived in the Bronx most of her life until she could no longer, due to her health and safety reasons, shop on the Grand Concourse. Her children moved her to Forest Hills. Although she was far less cantankerous after the move, she would never admit that she liked to new location.

She also never liked her son-in-law. She would describe him as a great husband and father, but a terrible son-in-law

Grandma Sophie had a habit of thinking that she was whispering, when she was in fact speaking at concert hall volume. Very often in her “dulcet tones” speaking about someone who is currently in her company. This terrified Charles.

****************************************************************************

Charles nervously approached his Grandmother, “Grandma, I’d like to meet my friend, Anne.”
Anne had been warned to expect anything.

“Stan, what kind of a name is Stan for a girl.” Nobody knew if Sophie was hard of hearing or just being difficult.

“No, Grandma, her name is Anne.” repeated Charles.

Charles could see the look in Sophie’s eyes, he knew by now to expect the unexpected.

“Are you Jewish?” Asked Sophie, although she already knew the answer.

“No, Mrs. Gerwitz, I’m not.” Anne stated without hesitation.

“Oh” was all the elderly woman would mutter at the time.

When they weren’t with her , the family often told Sophie stories. How on a sticky day she would say the “humanity is high.” Of course there were always those stories that weren’t so funny, for instance if someone did something she didn’t approve of he or she was “giving me a cancer,” or if she didn’t get her way she claimed, “I was going to faint.”

When the kids were younger these melodramatic claims would often upset them and cause monumental fights between Sandi and her Mother. One of these events caused Sophie not to speak to Sandi for six months. However, Sophie would send messages through the other children. Demands, or rather requests would be made and invariably somehow, miraculously, carried out. Sandi considered it the most peaceful six months of her life.

*****************************************************************************

The Seder at the Levy’s house was rather informal. Usually led by Mitch or Sandi’s younger brothers David or Josef. They were the ideal uncles. When the kids were young they were always there. Charles always said that they were more like older brothers than uncles.

Uncle Josef was a character. Sophie often claimed to have her fictional cancers due to Josef’s antics. Family lore has it that one Passover Mitch and Josef got into a spitball fight during the singing of Dayenu. Since Mitch could do no wrong, except in Sophie’s eyes, Josef caught the brunt of the blame. At one point during the activities, Mitch dunked a paper napkin in the salt water, tossed it at Josef. It landed and stuck between the top of his glasses and his forehead. As the salt water dripped down his face and almost everybody at the table laughed, a few of the members of the older generation admonished Josef, as if he had thrown the offensive wad at himself.

******************************************************************************

The Seder pretty much went as planned, except for one uncomfortable moment. There were no spitballs. All three kids claimed to have found the Afikoman. They were each paid handily by three different adults.

The uncomfortable moment occurred when Grandma Sophie with a stage whisper asked Sandi, “What does he see in her?”

“Shush Mom,’ whispered Sandi, ‘she seems like a lovely girl.”

Anne heard her, everybody at the table heard her, possibly every person on the island of Manhattan heard her. Anne barely reacted. She continued with a very animated discussion that she was having with Judah. But, for a second the smile left her face.

The smile also left Charles’ face. He knew that Anne would ultimately stand up for herself. He loved this about her. In this instant he also dreaded it. For she had a quick sarcastic sense of humor. He was afraid of the clash of the titans.

The family was duly impressed by Anne. There was nothing not to be impressed about. She was bright, personable and quite beautiful. Within hours she felt at home with almost everybody. Any feelings of trepidation about meeting the family had mostly dissipated. Every so often she would catch Sophie’s glare.

******************************************************************************

After the Seder much of the family retreated into the den. Charles and Anne went in also. It’s a typical Manhattan 2 Bedroom Apartment. You are close enough to hear the conversations in every room.

“Why does he have to choose her, aren’t there enough Jewish girls around?” The old lady said.

“Mom, that’s enough, you keep this up and I’ll have Mitch take you home.” Said Sandi

“Oh, the Gentile is welcome, but your own Mother is not.”

“Mom, that’s not fair, you’ve created the problem. She has handled your rudeness like a lady.”

“I’ll tell you right now, I’m not going to the wedding.”

Sandi knew that this was no bluff. Her mother had skipped Judah’s Bar Mitzvah over some spat she was having with her brothers. She had accused Sandi of being disloyal because she insisted, regardless, of the petty spat that her Uncles be invited.

“That’s your choice, Mom.” Said Sandi.

“You’re going to take their side over me again, have Mitch take me home.”

*****************************************************************************

Of course this could all be heard in the other room. At this point Charles got up to confront his Grandmother.

“Gram, I love you. I also love Anne. I will not choose between the two of you. Regardless of what you’ve said today, you will be invited to my wedding. Anne and I will be disappointed if you choose not to attend. But as Mom said, that’s your choice.”

At this point Anne appeared. “I’m sorry Mrs. Gerwitz that you have to go, let me help you to the car.”

They spoke at the car for 20 minutes. Nobody knows what was said. They’d never be best friends, but Sophie was always cordial. Sophie did in fact attend the wedding. She glared a little. She objected to the fact that the Rabbi would perform a mixed marriage. All things considered her behavior was as good as could be expected.

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