I was born 8 days before Pesach but didn’t know what Pesach was until 26 years later.
One year, I was 8 years old and friendless. The Jewish kids on Horace Harding Boulevard carried matzah and hard-boiled eggs to school, so I did it too, and thought it was just a thing people do. Mom didn’t make a fuss if I did or not.
One morning, something wonderful happened: Cheryl, the coolest kid on the block, took me aside and divulged that at lunch time, when school let out for an hour, I should grab a booth in Mario’s Italian restaurant on Kissena Boulevard and order a whole pizza for both of us, and then we would split the cost and eat the pizza.
So, heart singing, I did it. Mario brought our pizza piping hot, and I sat there and waited for Cheryl, practicing conversations, fighting the urge to bolt when the place filled up with noisy customers eating pizza with their friends.
I waited until the cheese congealed and the crust turned cold.
The customers finished lunch, paid and walked out, and Mario was tapping his foot and checking his watch.
He looked at the tears streaming onto my uneaten pizza and decided to send me home.
But first I walked into Cheryl’s house, because it had been her idea, and why…?!
Her mother frowned. “It happened because you ate pizza on Pesach.”
What the…? Had it all been a set-up to catch me? What had I done?
I took the question home. “What’s Pesach?” I said.
Mom reached into the part of her brain labeled ‘legends’. “We were slaves in Egypt,” she said.
Was that all?
Everything went silent after that, while I searched my sub-conscious memory. How old was I when we were slaves? I couldn’t remember anything, but my mother would not have lied. I must have been a baby.
Mom eventually decided to place me in a Connecticut boarding school with other kids who had never known Pesach.
And I mostly did nothing, so let’s skip that part.
But getting married at 26 was the most incredible thing I ever did. It was an act of desperation; I can’t say I thought about it first. But a month before the wedding, something cracked open. Right before people lined up to sell their chometz, the groom and his yeshiva friends caught sight of his supposedly modest bride charging to the Crown Heights bus stop in her track shoes.
Later, word got around that I didn’t even know what chometz was, let alone how to get rid of the stuff. So, he got on the phone and instructed me to throw the questionable items from my kitchen into a closet and lock the door, a task that took all night.