How Anne Baxter Changed My Religion
I had my first spiritual crisis at the age of eight. It was Passover 1956, our yearly ritual that was always held at my Bubbie’s apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I was turning a page of the illustrated Haggadah, a kind of a child’s guide to the Passover, when I found myself gazing straight into the face of the Angel of Death. She had long, wild hair, and she was descending from a darkened heaven and wielding a very foreboding scythe with both hands. It was on the same page as the four questions, and that’s where I came into the ritual. As the youngest child I had to read the questions. However, I was so fixated on the dark angel I could barley speak.
I knew the story well—Moses warned Pharaoh nine times before the big blow. In ascending order they were water to blood, a rain of frogs, lice, wild beasts, blight on livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and then the death of all the Egyptian firstborn. Staring at the Haggadah, all I could think was, “What kind of an angel would do that? I thought angels were sweet.”
After the plagues had been run by and the prayers had fallen silent, I piped up. My question probably came from a confluence of Seder wine and fear. I asked, “Why couldn’t God spare the Egyptian children too?”
My Uncle Samuel shook his head. “It’s part of the story, it’s always been that way.”
“Don’t take it so literally,” said uncle Max, “it’s a metaphor.”
My Aunt Esther added, “Try to view the spiritual side.
Yahweh loved the Hebrews so much He’d do anything to set them free.
My father, Solomon, commented, “God warned the Pharaoh with the previous nine plagues. He had plenty of time to think it over.”
Bubbie then spoke up. “There’s still chicken. Nobody’s eating it. Is there something wrong with the chicken?”
It made no sense to me, but I, like Jacob, often wrestled with God. I wrestled with many things growing up on the Lower East Side. I was constantly worried about breaking any of my parents’ numerous socialist taboos, like watching Walt Disney, who was antiunion, or eating any product made by John Welch, who was the founder of the John Birch Society. Besides my parents, danger lurked outside the apartment in the form of young men from the Catholic school, who held me personally responsible killing their Savior.
We had our pleasures, too. Baseball, comics, street games, television, and of course the movies. In those days there was only one big screen and the movie houses looked like great palaces. When a new movie opened it would play in just one theater. It was a major deal to go uptown and see a first-run film.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Neal Hellman's Passover Crisis
an excerpt from the full story at Neal's blog