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Elijah’s Goblet
by [?]

I

Aaron Ben Amram removed from the great ritual dish the roasted shankbone of lamb (symbolic residuum of the Paschal Sacrifice) and the roasted egg (representative of the ancient festival-offering in the Temple), and while his wife and children held up the dish, which now contained only the bitter herbs and unleavened cakes, he recited the Chaldaic prelude to the Seder–the long domestic ceremonial of the Passover Evening.

‘This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come in and eat; let all who require come in and celebrate the Passover. This year here, next year in the land of Israel! This year slaves, next year sons of freedom!’

But the Polish physician showed nothing of the slave. White-bearded, clad in a long white robe and a white skullcap, and throned on white pillows, he made rather a royal figure, indeed for this night of nights conceived of himself as ‘King’ and his wife as ‘Queen.’

But ‘Queen’ Golda, despite her silk gown and flowery cap, did not share her consort’s majestic mood, still less the rosy happiness of the children who sat round this fascinating board. Her heart was full of a whispering fear that not all the brave melodies of the father nor all the quaint family choruses could drown. All very well for the little ones to be unconscious of the hovering shadow, but how could her husband have forgotten the horrors of the Blood Accusation in the very year he had led her under the Canopy?

And surely he knew as well as she that the dreadful legend was gathering again, that the slowly-growing Jew-hatred had reached a point at which it must find expression, that the Pritzim (nobles) in their great houses, and the peasants behind their high palings, alike sulked under the burden of debts. Indeed, had not the Passover Market hummed with the old, old story of a lost Christian child? Not murdered yet, thank God, nor even a corpse. But still, if a boy should be found with signs of violence upon him at this season of the Paschal Sacrifice, when the Greek Church brooded on the Crucifixion! O God of Abraham, guard us from these fiends unchained!

But the first part of the elaborate ritual, pleasantly punctuated with cups of raisin wine, passed peacefully by, and the evening meal, mercifully set in the middle, was reached, to the children’s vast content. They made wry, humorous mouths, each jest endeared by annual repetition, over the horseradish that typified the bitterness of the Egyptian bondage, and ecstatic grimaces over the soft, sweet mixture of almonds, raisins, apples, and cinnamon, vaguely suggestive of the bondsmen’s mortar; they relished the eggs sliced into salt water, and then–the symbols all duly swallowed–settled down with more prosaic satisfaction to the merely edible meats and fishes, though even to these the special Passover plates and dishes and the purified knives and forks lent a new relish.

By this time Golda was sufficiently cheered up to meditate her annual theft of the Afkuman, that segment of Passover cake under Aaron’s pillow, morsels of which, distributed to each as the final food to be tasted that night, replaced the final mouthful of the Paschal Lamb in the ancient Palestinian meal.

II

But Elijah’s goblet stood in the centre of the table untasted. Every time the ritual cup-drinking came round, the children had glanced at the great silver goblet placed for the Prophet of Redemption. Alas! the brimming raisin wine remained ever at the same level.

They found consolation in the thought that the great moment was still to come–the moment of the third cup, when, mother throwing open the door, father would rise, holding the goblet on high, and sonorously salute an unseen visitor.

True, in other years, though they had almost heard the rush of wings, the great shining cup had remained full, and when it was replaced on the white cloth, a vague resentment as at a spurned hospitality had stirred in each youthful breast. But many reasons could be found to exculpate Elijah–not omitting their own sins–and now, when Ben Amram nodded to his wife to open the door, expectation stood on tip-toe, credulous as ever, and the young hearts beat tattoo.