One would find overdose of the alleged gleam in my eyes last Monday - fresh gefelte fish and matzo meal arrived from New York, and there I was, kneading the balls. We had the haggadah, Sigrun's David acted as the youngest child asking the appropriate question, and we had the bitter herbs and matzo and the charoset mortar with which "we" built the pyramids, and the menu that would warm up my Czech grandma's heart - the whole schlmeal.
There were some irregularities; specially that injunction about circumcised males was not strictly observed - but the rest - the genuine thing. It was beautiful, in a totally unexpected way. I had invited Bram and Ida, which turned out to be something much more important than I had realized. Abraham Pais was musing those days about his survival during the war and about layers of his identity; Jew, Dutch, American, now even a little bit Danish. So for him this was an occasion to remember his orthodox father, and for the first time to sing songs in Hebrew in front of his Nordic beloved; he sang beautifully, with Ashkenazi pronunciation the songs his father liked, and with Sephardic the ones his mother liked. It was very touching, and moving.
Then Bram told us how he lost his faith. One Shabbat his parents had left him alone in the kitchen, and he stood there with a match in his hand - what would happen if he did the did the forbidden? and - and - he lit the match. He stood there petrified, awaiting the heavens to open and lighting to strike him. Nothing. So there was no God after all.
Next day I made the error of reading the Exodus and loudly commenting how I feel about that petty and vengeful God of the Jews - that was not wise, as it lead to a scene, with me accused of belittling God.
The Man who made Matzo Balls
PS June 7, 1996
Message from Bram: " I plan to be in Copenhagen for s stretch starting end of June. You are supposed to save a seat by your side for me in the frokoststue."PS December 4, 1999
Bram Pais saw me in the cafeteria and immediately said:
"You look terrible - What are you doing with this Jewish beard?''
I said: "How do you know it is a Jewish beard?''
"I know'' he said.
PS October 25, 2000 Apropos Bram
Tina, friskier at 80 than many are at 60, is the woman who hid Abraham Pais in Amsterdam during the war. She told me few months ago I look like Marcelo Mastroiani as we danced to kletzmer at Bram's memorial. It's not true, but it is a sensitive thing to say to a guy of uncertain countenance.
Harry J. Lipkin: "Bram had spent the war in Amsterdam, hidden from the Germans. When he was finally caught and arrested and would have been shot, his teacher Kramers wrote a letter to Heisenberg asking him to help Bram. Heisenberg did nothing. But the heroic Dutch woman who had hidden Bram during all these years risked her life to go to the Gestapo commander to plea for Bram's release and she took a copy of Kramers' letter to Heisenberg. This was enough to convince the commander to release Bram. His cell mate who had been arrested with him was shot."