I had once imagined what Passover might have looked like at Isaac’s house when, sitting in synagogue a couple of weeks before Passover, I thought, “Why not write it down?”
So here it is, the Passover Edition of Acceptance. Kalyn is almost 6 years old. (Incidentally, she’s in second grade at this time. She was only 4 when she went into kindergarten and she skipped first grade. When your father is a schoolteacher and your playmate is a man who is over 900 years old, you tend to be ahead of other children your age.)
March 31, 1999
Lenoir City, TN
Kalyn opened the front door and stuck her head inside. “Isaac?”
“Come in, Ahuva.”
Kalyn hurried in, shutting the door behind her. Isaac was putting dishes on his coffee table—as if he was setting it for dinner—but stopped to catch Kalyn, as she went flying into his arms.
“How was your day?” he asked, lifting her up and kissing her cheek.
“How was school?”
“Do you know how to say anything but ‘fine?’”
She thought about it. “I don’t know,” she finally said, giving up.
He laughed, kissing her cheek again.
“Is it Passover yet?” she asked him.
“Tonight.” He put her down. “Want to help me?”
“Yes!” she replied eagerly.
He looked around. “I cleaned most of the house today, but there’s probably still some chametz around here somewhere. Want to find it for me while I finish setting the table?”
“Yes!” she said, starting towards the kitchen. Then she stopped and turned back to look at him. “What haven’t you cleaned yet?”
He smiled. “I haven’t cleaned the couch yet.”
She ran back into the living room and started tearing the couch apart, flinging pillows and cushions into the floor with delight. Then, under one cushion, she found an entire sandwich.
“Isaac!” she said.
“Did you find something?” he asked casually.
“Look!” she said, pointing.
Isaac leaned over to look. “That looks like a peanut butter sandwich. I wonder how that got there? I only know one little girl who eats peanut butter sandwiches.”
She turned on him. “I didn’t put it there!”
“Maybe you dropped it and forgot about it?” he suggested.
“I didn’t drop a whole sandwich,” she said with incredulity.
“You’re the only person I know who eats them.”
“I didn’t put a sandwich in your couch,” she said emphatically. “And I didn’t forget about it, either.”
“Well, nevertheless, there it is. And it can’t stay, because it’s Pesach. Do you want to take it home and eat it?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Ew, no! I don’t want to eat a sandwich that’s been in your couch.”
“It looks perfectly good.”
“Ew. It’s probably covered with couch bunnies.”
Isaac laughed. “Couch bunnies?”
“Yeah. They live in your couch.”
“Well, if that’s the case, then we better throw it away. Why don’t you put it in the trash in the kitchen?”
She picked up the sandwich by one corner, as if it was particularly repulsive, and ran with it to the kitchen.
“Now what?” she called out to Isaac.
“Why don’t you take that trash bag out to the garbage can? We can’t leave chametz in the house, even in the trash.
Kalyn pulled out the bag—empty save the sandwich—and took it out to the can sitting on the curb. Then she ran back into the house. Isaac had the vacuum cleaner out and was vacuuming the couch cushions.
“Why don’t you look and see if there are any crumbs left,” he said, pointing to the couch.
Kalyn leaned over the arm of the couch, looking down.
“There’s something,” she said, pointing. “Wait, maybe it’s just dust.”
“Probably a couch bunny,” Isaac said with a smile. “Better get it, or they’ll take over my couch.”
He quickly vacuumed the couch, then Kalyn helped him put it back together.
“There, all done,” he said, winding the vacuum’s cord and stashing it in the coat closet in the hallway.
“Is it time for dinner?” she asked.
“Not for a while, Ahuva; we can’t start until after sunset. Why, are you hungry?”
“There are some carrots in the refrigerator. Why don’t you snack on those?”
Kalyn went into the kitchen and inspected Isaac’s refrigerator. There normally wasn’t anything in it but some Kool-Aid and snacks for Kalyn, but tonight there were several dishes sitting in it, covered in plastic wrap.
She found some baby carrots, and she took the entire bag back into the living room. She sat in the floor in front of the television and watched Sesame Street—munching on carrots—while Isaac continued setting the coffee table. When he finished, he sat down on the couch and Kalyn quickly abandoned her carrots and climbed into his lap.
He smiled, wrapping his arms around her, and kissed her on the forehead.
She laid her head against his shoulder. “I didn’t put that sandwich in your couch,” she said.
He chuckled. “Then how do you think it got in there?”
She considered it for a moment. “I think Mike did it.”
“Why would he put a peanut butter sandwich in my couch?”
“Because Mike does crazy stuff like that.”
Isaac laughed. “This is true.”
“It was probably him,” she said confidently.
When Micah came over, shortly before sunset, Kalyn pounced on him.
“Mike, did you put a sandwich in Isaac’s couch?” she demanded.
“A sandwich. Did you put it in the couch?”
“Why on earth would I put a sandwich in Abba’s couch?”
She put her hands on her hips. “Because you’re silly,” she insisted.
Isaac laughed, looking at them. “We found an entire peanut butter sandwich in the couch when we went looking for chametz.”
Micah looked bewildered. “Why are you blaming me? I only know one person who eats peanut butter sandwiches, and her name starts with a ‘K’.”
Kalyn beat on Micah’s legs with her fists. “I know you did it!” she accused.
Micah took her by the hands. “Ahuva, I didn’t put a sandwich in Abba’s couch.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I swear on Pesach I didn’t do it.”
She frowned up at him, still not looking convinced.
Anselm walked into the house a moment later. Kalyn looked at him. “Anselm, did Mike put a peanut butter sandwich in Isaac’s couch?”
“Sounds like something he would do,” Anselm calmly agreed.
“I didn’t do it!” Micah said indignantly.
“Did he?” Kalyn asked Anselm.
Anselm looked at Micah for a moment. “No, he didn’t,” Anselm finally said.
“Hmpf,” Kalyn said, frowning, but she dropped her accusation.
“So, you believe Anselm, but not me?” Micah demanded
“Yes,” she replied.
“Because he doesn’t lie.”
“Are you saying that I’m a liar?” he asked, looking astonished.
“You like joking, and it’s not a lie if you’re joking,” she said with authority.
Finally, around sunset, Alice arrived, carrying a bottle of wine.
“Where’s Rob?” Isaac asked.
She set her pocketbook on Isaac’s desk. “He volunteered to help the Ladies’ Guild decorate the Lady Chapel for Maundy Thursday services before he realized it was Passover. He’s the only man helping, so he felt he couldn’t back out.”
Isaac removed the setting he had put out for Rob and everyone took their seats on the cushions around the coffee table. Alice sat opposite of Isaac—who was at the head of the table. Micah stretched out on the cushion next to Kalyn—pretending to nap—while Anselm sat opposite of them.
Isaac blessed and lit the candles on the table, then uncorked the wine and poured a tiny amount in a glass for himself, poured Alice a full glass, and added a generous splash to Kalyn’s glass of water.
She grinned, feeling excited. Although she dipped her Communion wafer into wine every Sunday morning, getting an entire glass of wine at Passover—however watered down—always felt like a treat. It made her feel grown-up.
Isaac lifted his glass and recited the blessing over the wine. Then he used a small, silver ewer in a bowl to splash water over his hands, and he wiped them on a hand towel. Then he picked up a sprig of parsley. Kalyn and Alice took this as their cue to do likewise with the parsley laid out on their plates, but Micah and Anselm didn’t. In fact, they didn’t have plates or glasses at all.
Isaac dipped the parsley in the small bowl of water in front of him, recited the blessing, then stripped the greenery from the stem with his teeth. Kalyn did the same. The parsley didn’t have much taste, but the water was very salty.
Isaac excused himself from the table for a moment. As soon as he was gone, Micah shook his head. “Every year,” he muttered.
“I do have to admire his commitment,” Anselm said, almost wistfully.
“What?” Kalyn asked, looking between them.
“We can’t eat food,” Micah explained.
“Yeah, I know.”
“But Jews are commanded to eat matzah on Passover, and it’s traditional to eat certain other things.”
“Put it together,” Micah prompted.
Kalyn frowned, trying to figure out what he was saying. “Isaac can’t eat food that he’s supposed to eat.”
“Right. And what does he do every year?”
Kalyn looked at Isaac’s place at the table. He had a plate with food on it, the same as was on her and her mother’s plates. “He… eats food,” Kalyn said with confusion.
“But… how, if he can’t?”
“He can eat it, but it doesn’t stay down.”
“It makes him sick,” Alice explained to Kalyn.
She made a face. “He makes himself sick?”
“It does fulfill the commandment,” Micah said thoughtfully, “although I think most rabbis would tell him that he shouldn’t do it, since it makes him sick.”
“I’m infinitely curious to know what most rabbis would say if they knew what he does eat under normal circumstances,” Anselm said with a wry grin.
“Really,” Micah replied. “Although, you know, some people have made a good argument for why it’s okay for us to drink blood. You can break any of the laws of kashrut in order to sustain life.”
“But does Judaism approve of the idea of living forever? Given that’s the result of drinking blood, it might have some bearing on the kashrut question.”
Kalyn got lost in their theological discussion and instead occupied herself with drinking her “wine.”
“Save some for later,” her mother admonished.
When Isaac returned to the table, no one mentioned his absence, and he picked up the service where he left off. Kalyn studied his face, but she couldn’t tell that he looked any different; he didn’t look as if he had been sick.
Isaac picked up a piece of matzah and broke it. He put one piece back on the serving plate and placed the other on a cloth napkin.
“We better save a piece so we have some to eat for dessert,” he announced to everyone at the table. “Otherwise, we might forget and eat all of it.”
“Yeah, because matzah is just so good, we can’t put it down,” Micah said with a sarcastic smile.
“Shut up and put this away,” Isaac said, handing him the matzah wrapped up in the napkin. Micah grinned, taking it and standing up.
Kalyn tried to watch where he went with it—because it was always Micah’s job to hide it from her—but Isaac distracted her. “Kalyn, it’s your turn.”
She turned her attention back to him. “My turn?”
“To ask questions,” he prompted.
“Oh, yeah. But I already know the answers.”
“Do you?” he asked, perking a brow. “Let’s hear them, then.”
“Um…” she hesitated. “What’s the first question again?”
“Why is this night different from other nights?”
“Oh, yeah. Tonight’s Passover.”
“And what are the four things that make it different from other nights?”
“I get to drink wine.”
This elicited laughter from the others around the table. Even Micah—somewhere else in the house—could be heard laughing.
“Not a traditional answer, even if it’s a correct one,” Isaac allowed. “What else?”
“Do we eat regular bread tonight?”
“No, we eat matzah.”
“Because, when the Jews were leaving Egypt, they had to make bread really fast, and they didn’t have time to make it right, so it came out flat.”
“And what about this?” he asked, pointing to the little bowl in which he had dipped his parsley.
“That’s salt water.”
“And why do we have it?”
Kalyn had to think hard for a minute. “Um… is it… is it because it’s like tears? Because the Jews cried in Egypt?”
Kalyn smiled, pleased with herself.
“What about the maror?”
She looked at her plate. “Which is the more-or again?”
Isaac leaned forward, pointing to a small piece of a whitish vegetable on her plate.
She wrinkled her nose. “That’s the stuff that burns my tongue.”
“It’s a bitter herb,” he said. “Why do we eat it if it burns our tongues?”
“Because it’s bad, like slavery.”
“Good. Now, lastly, why are we sitting in the floor?”
Kalyn tried really hard to remember, but she couldn’t. “I don’t remember,” she said, disappointed.
Micah reappeared and took his place beside her. “Personally, I like reclining during dinner,” he hinted.
“Oh, yeah, we’re supposed to recline while we eat.”
“Do you remember why?” Isaac asked.
“Because… because it’s fun and Jews didn’t get to have fun in Egypt?”
“That’s one answer. Also, the Egyptians reclined while they ate—it showed off how wealthy they were, because slaves fed them; they didn’t sit at a table and feed themselves. But now we’re free, and we’re our own masters.”
“But… no one feeds us.”
“Right. And that’s the difference between us and the Egyptians. They were completely decadent, wanting people to wait on them hand-and-foot. We just wanted to be free to be ourselves.”
“That, and reclining shows that we can take our time to eat,” Micah offered. “The Israelites had to hurry through their meal.”
“A slave’s time is never his own,” Isaac agreed.
Isaac continued with the seder. He only took a tiny taste of wine, but he gamely ate small amounts of the matzah, horseradish, and charoset. Then there was a short pause while he excused himself again.
Kalyn began to grow hungry and wished the story would hurry up so she could eat. Passover was fun, but it was also terribly long. She wished Isaac could tell the story of the plagues and things while she and her mother ate. That would save a lot of time.
Micah noticed her zoning out, and he started to poke her under the table when no one was paying attention. She tried to slap his hand, but he was always too quick; she was left swatting nothing but air. As soon as Isaac stepped out of the room, Micah pounced on her, tickling her mercilessly.
“Mike… stop it!” she gasped.
“Tickling is the punishment for not paying attention to the seder.”
“Speaking of people who aren’t paying attention…” Anselm said, looking at him from across the table.
“What?” Micah asked, sitting up and looking back at him.
“You’re too busy tormenting Kalyn to pay attention.”
“That’s not true. I can listen and torment her at the same time. Test me; I bet I can tell you everything Abba’s said all night, word-for-word.”
As soon as Isaac remerged from the bathroom, Micah sat up and acted like he was on his best behavior. But at every opportunity, he poked at Kalyn or lightly pinched her leg. Kalyn looked at Anselm, her eyes imploring him to help.
Finally, when Isaac and Alice went into the kitchen to get dinner, Anselm picked up a spare sprig of parsley and threw it at Micah while he wasn’t looking.
“Hey!” Micah said, turning to Anselm.
“Pick on someone closer to your own age,” Anselm told him.
Micah looked around for the parsley—so he could throw it back—but he couldn’t find it. Kalyn, however, laughed uproariously because she could see it was stuck in his hair. Even Anselm—who was normally quiet and reserved—was induced to laugh.
“Where did it go?” Micah asked, still obliviously looking behind him and under the table. Kalyn and Anselm only continued to laugh.
Isaac and Alice returned a moment later, each carrying a plate. Isaac picked up Kalyn’s first plate and replaced it with one filled with lamb stew and spinach and more charoset. “Micah, what on earth are you doing?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Micah said, looking up at his father, the picture of innocence.
Isaac plugged the sprig out of Micah’s hair and showed it to him. “This doesn’t look like nothing.”
Micah pointed to Anselm. “He threw it at me.”
Isaac looked at him doubtfully. Anselm, for his part, sat on the other side of the table, looking as proper as he always did.
“He did!” Micah insisted indignantly.
“He did not,” Kalyn said, coming to Anselm’s defense. “Micah was playing with that and put it in his hair.”
Isaac frowned at him. “And here I thought Kalyn was the only child at the table.”
This caused everyone to laugh—Anselm especially.
“They’re lying to you, Abba,” Micah continued to insist.
“I know,” Isaac replied, sticking the parsley back in Micah’s hair. “But I also know you started it, my perpetual child.”
Micah snatched the sprig out of his hair and frowned, looking everything like a petulant child.
Everyone talked while Kalyn and Alice ate their meal. That, at least, was one thing that Isaac didn’t try to do. Finally, when they were finished eating, Isaac looked at Micah. “Can you go get the rest of the matzah?”
“Matzah? What matzah?”
“The matzah I gave you earlier—that I told you to save for dessert.”
“Oh, that matzah. I… hm… I can’t seem to remember where I put it.”
Kalyn took that as her cue to jump to her feet. “I can find it,” she declared.
“Good,” Isaac said, “because we can’t finish until we eat the last of it.”
Kalyn zoomed through the house, looking for the matzah. Micah always hid it very well, and she invariably—much to Isaac’s consternation—ended up tearing apart the recently-tided house.
Twenty minutes after starting, Kalyn still hadn’t found the matzah, even though she had pulled all the covers off the bed, ransacked the pillowcases, pulled out all the towels in the bathroom closet, rifled through every cabinet in the kitchen, and crawled around under the desk, looking behind the computer.
“Really, Micah, do you have to make it so hard?” Isaac asked with exasperation.
“It’s supposed to be hidden.”
“You’re going to stay tonight and help me clean up,” Isaac warned.
Finally Micah resorted to playing “hotter/colder” with Kalyn. She quickly narrowed down the location to the bathroom, but despite pulling out all the linens and going through the dirty clothes hamper, one piece at a time—in addition to pawing through the things under the sink—she still couldn’t find the matzah.
Anselm finally went in to help, and he searched all the high places, but even he became baffled after several minutes. Micah just cackled.
“I’ve stumped everyone!”
And then realization dawned on Anselm’s face… and revulsion. “Micah, you didn’t,” he scolded.
“What?” Isaac and Alice asked in unison, coming to look in the bathroom too. Isaac winced at the mess in the floor.
Anselm picked up the lid from the back of the toilet and pulled a plastic bag out of the tank.
Everyone but Micah looked at it in horror. “God, Micah!” Alice complained.
“What? It’s still clean and dry. The water in the tank isn’t dirty anyways.”
Alice put her hand over her mouth, looking a bit green, but Isaac glowered. “Micah, that’s the last time you ever hide the matzah.”
“What?” Micah asked, looking sincerely baffled. “It’s dry, it’s clean—there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Anselm washed his hands in the sink. “Yes, and urine is clean and antiseptic too, but you don’t notice people washing their hands in it.” He handed Isaac the bag of matzah. Isaac held it gingerly by the corner.
“Objection! Totally irrelevant,” Micah argued.
“It’s not irrelevant. People’s perceptions matter as much as reality, and no one wants to eat food that’s been stored in a toilet, regardless of whether it’s clean or not.”
“What’s the difference between putting it in a clean toilet and a clean kitchen cupboard?”
“Micah, hush,” Isaac scolded. “Go sit down,” he said, pointing towards the living room. Dragging his feet and mumbling under his breath, Micah went back to the table.
Alice looked at Isaac. “Don’t even think—”
“I’d never ask,” Isaac cut across her, sounding weary. While everyone else went back to the table, Isaac threw away the matzah and got some fresh from the box in the pantry.
Micah looked up at him, sullenly, while he passed out the matzah to Alice and Kalyn, and they ate the last of it. He poured them more wine, plus a glass for Elijah. Kalyn hurried to open the front door. The night air was quite cool, and the breeze made the candles on the table—which were burning low—gutter.
Isaac recited the lengthy blessings from memory, with Anselm and Micah occasionally joining in or replying. Finally, at long last, Isaac concluded the seder with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
“Amen,” everyone responded.
Alice picked up her glass of wine, finishing off the remains. “What did you say when you actually lived in Jerusalem?” she asked Isaac.
He thought about it for a moment, then looked confused. He looked at Micah. “What did we say when you were a child?”
“I don’t know; I was always asleep by this point.” As if to prove his point, he stifled a yawn.
Isaac frowned. “I can’t remember.”
“Master Joshua always said, ‘Next year may we merit to rule in Jerusalem,’” Anselm said.
“Yes, but that’s not what I used to say when I was human,” Isaac said. He clearly looked perturbed by the fact that he couldn’t remember. Although vampire memory was without flaw, they only had what they brought with them into their new lives. Isaac did not grow back the hair that he had lost due to balding, nor did he recover memories which had been lost before he was turned.
“What does Master Joshua say now that Jerusalem is Jewish again?” Alice asked.
“‘Next year may we merit the Redemption,’” Isaac replied.
“Master Joshua always had such an interesting seder,” Micah said.
“That’s because his version was a thousand years older than ours. He grew up when there were actually sacrifices at the Temple on Pesach. The loss of the Temple and the Diaspora colored the seders that came after.”
“When was Master Joshua born?” Alice asked.
“I… think around the year 48 or 50,” Isaac replied. “He mentioned being in his early twenties when he participated in the rebellion against the Romans. He said he actually saw the Temple on fire.”
“He’s seen so much,” Alice said, almost wistfully.
“Yes, he has.”
“I’ve seen plenty—and most of it I wish I hadn’t,” Micah said glumly. Isaac and Anselm nodded slightly in agreement.
Finally, they got up. Alice was so stiff from sitting in the floor, Anselm had to help pull her to her feet.
Kalyn, though, was curled up on her cushion, sound asleep.
“Kalyn,” Alice called to her.
“I’ll take her home for you,” Isaac volunteered.
“I think I better do that,” Anselm said with a knowing look at Isaac. Isaac didn’t look very happy, but he finally nodded his consent.
Anselm bent down and gently scooped Kalyn up in his arms. She never stirred.
Alice hugged Isaac. “Thank you for dinner.”
He returned her hug, then gave her a peck on the cheek. “Thank you for coming. And letting Kalyn come,” he added. “Pesach never seemed worth celebrating without children.”
Alice hugged Micah. “Happy Pesach,” she said.
“Thank you. Happy Easter to you too.”
She waved goodnight to them, then followed Anselm outside.
“What time is it, I wonder?” she asked, as they walked down the sidewalk.
“Nearly eleven,” Anselm replied.
“Is it really?” she gasped. “No wonder Kalyn fell asleep. She’s not going to want to wake up tomorrow morning.” Then Alice chuckled. “We get out later and later every year.”
“As always, it’s an adventure to spend an evening with Micah,” Anselm said with a grin.
“He really is too much sometimes.”
They walked up to Alice and Rob’s house. She opened the front door and found all the lights out, save one lamp they always left on in the living room.
“Rob must have already gone to bed,” she whispered. She tiptoed through the house with Anselm following silently behind.
The bedroom door opened a moment later and Rob almost ran headlong into them. He and Alice both jumped with fright.
“I thought I heard something,” Rob said, when he had recovered his breath.
“I thought you had already gone to bed,” Alice replied.
“Nah, I was watching the late news.” He half-smiled. “I thought I was going to have to stage a raid to get you both back. How long does it take to eat dinner?”
Rob seemed to be joking, but when Alice glanced at Anselm, there was something about the way he looked back at her that said Rob was putting on a front—either for her or for himself. Even after fourteen years together, Rob was clearly still a little insecure when it came to Alice’s relationship with Isaac. She had never given him reason to doubt her, but just one look at Isaac left little doubt that he would take Alice and Kalyn both in a heartbeat. All Rob had to do was be less than what they deserved.
“It wouldn’t take so long if Micah wasn’t present,” Alice replied.
“Ah,” Rob said.
“How was church?” Anselm asked.
“We didn’t have service tonight; I just helped the ladies decorate. And I think it’s the best it’s ever looked,” he said, sounding rather proud. “Although don’t think they didn’t work me like a rented mule,” he added with a laugh.
“I’d like to come with you tomorrow night, if you don’t mind,” Anselm said.
Rob looked a little surprised. “I don’t mind. Service is at noon.”
“I better get Kalyn in bed, or she won’t want to get up tomorrow,” Alice said.
“Okay,” Rob said, looking to be in a slightly better mood as he retreated back to the bedroom.
Alice lead Anselm down the hallway to Kalyn’s room. He gently laid her on the bed, but she never stirred; she was clearly out for the night.
“Thank you,” Alice whispered.
“Not a problem,” Anselm replied.
“I meant… about….” She hesitated, feeling awkward. How, exactly, did you thank someone for changing the subject when it was on rather a sore spot?
He smiled softly. “Also not a problem.”
Alice knew Anselm was connected to Isaac–as were Micah and Rose. She had always wondered how much they knew. If they knew everything, then it wouldn’t have been hard—or unthinkable—for them to hate her, for Isaac’s sake. But they had never given any indication that they knew anything at all, much less that they felt the need to censure her. Over the years, she had slowly come to realize how blessed she was to live with such an exceptional group of people. She felt privileged to serve them, much less call them friends.
“Goodnight,” Anselm said quietly, taking his leave. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She smiled at him. “Goodnight.”