“The wicked son what does he say?
“Therefore, you should blunt his teeth and say: ‘Because of that which God did for me when I came out of Egypt’. For me and not for him. (From The Passover Haggada).
Josh was absorbed by something on his lap.
“What are you doing?” demanded his father.
“Nothing. Just reading a commentary.”
“Extra commentaries can wait until tomorrow afternoon, after synagogue. Tonight we concentrate on our seder,” said Avi Zimmerman. “Put your Haggadah – Passover service book - on the table where I can see it and read the next verse.”
Avi and Rosa Zimmerman liked entertaining a large crowd for the family’s annual Passover meal so twenty-three pairs of eyes were now fixed on Josh. But still he did not respond.
Finally, Mr Zimmerman heaved his huge bulk from the armchair into which it had been squeezed and lumbered half-way down the room to where his second son was seated.
“Show me what you’re reading,” he demanded and seizing Josh’s arm, he sent him and his chair spinning to the floor – along with two books the boy had been resting on his knee.
“What? I’ve never before heard of this scholar or his work.”
As Josh struggled to his feet, his father had picked up the Haggadah in one hand while scrutinising the cover of the second book as it lay on the floor.
He then grabbed it and tried to pronounce the author’s name, which had been transliterated from English into Hebrew.
“On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Who is this person? A modern Torah scholar? Perhaps he works with Adin Steinsaltz”?
“No, Abba. Jack Kerouac has been dead for a long-time. Actually he wasn’t Jewish although one of his close friends was a Jewish poet, Allen Ginsberg who wrote Kaddish and …”
Mr Zimmerman contained his bewildered rage no longer.
“Non-Jews? Kaddish? Go upstairs. Your sisters will send you your meal later and meanwhile you may ponder the consequences of hiding a secular book inside a Haggadah. You have brought great shame on our family this night.”
It was past 2.00 a.m. when Mr Zimmerman made his way into the room Josh shared with his brothers, but they had never appeared after the seder’s conclusion.
“Do you realise what you’ve done, you sheigetz? You and your arrogant self-hatred may have ruined Levi’s match to Leah Gremholtz along with any hope that the younger children will be accepted in kosher society later on.”
But as he spoke, Mr Zimmerman realised he barely recognised his son. Josh was sitting bare-headed, with the light from a street lamp behind him, the better to see as he snipped the last of the side-curls from about his face.
“This is the trouble, Abba,” he said. “You never think of me as an individual; only as another channel through which to continue what you see as Jewish tradition. I’m sure there’s more than one way and I’m going to explore it.
“I don’t hate myself. Actually I love being Jewish and I’m a very proud Israeli. It’s you I hate. You’re a bully, Abba and you’ve turned Eema into one too!
“There, I’ve said it. My first big truth! Now I’ll tell you more. I’ve been planning on leaving home for months and secretly bought secular clothes in preparation. But if you look in my backpack you’ll see that I’m going to lead my sort of a kosher life.
“No, don’t try to hit me,” he urged, backing away as his father raised his hand. “You know that I’m taller – and much fitter than you. I’m not going to let you touch me.
“I’m going now and will wait as long as necessary for the IDF Induction Centre, here in Tiberius at Nazareth Street, to re-open after Passover.
“I’d like to join an elite brigade or even become an air pilot before enrolling at university. I want to taste real life; not just feel it somehow third-hand via Torah studies.
“Silly boy!”, scoffed his father, but softening a little. “With your eyesight you’ll be lucky if any recruiting officer allows you to do more than scrub the latrines with a toothbrush. I predict that you’ll be back before Shavuot – Pentecost – begging your ‘bully’ of a mother to make you a decent kosher meal.”
But Josh had gone - banging the front door triumphantly behind him. He was unaware of his father now sitting on the low stool he had just vacated; tearing his shirt with the scissors he had used on his hair and beginning to chant Kaddish – not the poem but the traditional Jewish mourner’s prayer.
His father was right. Josh was back home long before Shavuot.
“What happened?” asked Rosa’s close friend, Rochel Levin.
“Our darling boy got no further than the end of Fig Street,” she sobbed. “With a head full of air and his woefully weak eyes, he could not have seen the car which hit him and was killed outright.
“A car driven in our neighbourhood on a festive night?”
“It had been hired by a British Christian Zionist couple. They were visiting Tiberius for ‘Easter’, but had somehow lost their way as they returned to their hotel after a late night out on the lake shore.
“I met Mrs Johnston at her request. A very nice woman. She and her husband were deeply distressed by the incident and have offered us some compensation.
“But y’know how it is,” added Rosa. “I suggested a donation to the yeshiva – Talmudic Academy - in Josh’s name. But I could tell she didn’t understand. A real shame – about her, I mean. In another world she’d make a really good Jew.”
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 12 April 2012)