STORIES: C.B. and Me
one of our more honorable family traditions: Passover
week, I scan the TV schedule and pick out all the
movies with biblical themes - like C.B. Demille's
roaring classic, The Ten Commandments. Don't knock
C.B. I've got friends who've received more instruction
from this promoter/director than from their Rabbis
and Sunday School teachers. I mean, thanks to him,
Charleton Heston could have been the west coast director
of UJA anytime he tired of tinseltown.
C.B. produced more than The Ten Commandments, you know.
He did Samson and Delilah, too. In fact, there are film
lovers who credit C.B. Demille with the authorship of
"That's a stretch," says my good friend Herb. "Maybe
the first few chapters, but no more. Just kidding,"
Anyhow, as I said, around Passover I spread the word
to kids and grandkids. "Channel 10, 8:30 Tuesday night
- don't miss it." Then I inform each of my young dependents
that afterwards I'll call and ask a few simple questions.
And who knows? If they answer accurately and comprehensively,
there may be a surprise in the mail the next day. And
if it's a box of candy - you can bet it'll be kosher
Does the Bible not instruct us to tell the story of
Exodus from slavery to our children? OK, so there's
no mention of a test, but show me where it's forbidden.
And does it confine the tale to the Haggadah - the book
we read at the Seder table? Show me one place - even
in the Talmud - where instruction from C.B. Demille
So with a few long distance phone calls, I expand my
Seder table 500 miles to the homes of absent kids and
grandkids when I'm not lucky enough to have them physically
When they are present, all I can do is tell the story
over the Seder table with a bowl of soup standing in
for the Red Sea and a couple of dips of mashed potatoes
dividing the miniature soupy sea. After that, I'm at
the mercy of the kids' imaginations. But C.B. does it
all with Technicolor moving pictures featuring Charleton
Heston, Yul Bryner, Yvonne De'Carlo, and Edward G. Robinson.
Sometimes, since Charleton's in Hollywood and probably
busy on Seder night, I'm Moses when we act out the story
at our Seder table. One of the guests or relatives -
the one we like the least - is assigned the Pharaoh
role. The wife - who doesn't look anything like a Midianite
- is dusky Zipporah. And one of the kids dressed in
the loudest coat we can find in the closet is young
My cast gets cranky as the festive meal is delayed.
But I compensate with lots of wine. It does wonders
for their performance.
Timing is everything. I need all the props I can get.
First, I set the mood with a Nat King Cole song - "Pharaoh's
Army Got Drownded". Then, of course, the Seder ceremony
- the blessings over the wine, bitter herbs, parsley.
The kids ask tough questions, especially the older
ones who are beginning to notice that boys are from
Mars and girls from Venus. Like, "Why did Moses marry
a Midianite - a gal who's Pop, according to the biblical
narrative is a ╬Priest of Midian'".
This is much more challenging than "why do we eat Matzohs
on Passover?". I'm only a simple father who likes to
tell the Passover story. I can pass the chicken platter
without spilling a drumstick, say the blessing over
the wine, and appreciate the feast my wife has prepared.
But Moses and his choice of a Midianite maiden - who
knows? Clearly, the Nile Delta from which he'd fled
swarmed with nubile candidates of his own faith. But
there probably weren't too many synagogue socials in
the Midianite desert. Not a single matchmaking service.
And a man gets lonely.
It is interesting that Moses, the Prophet and founder
of Judaism, married "out of the fold". Earlier in Exodus,
Joseph travels the same path when he weds Asenath, the
daughter of the Priest of On, also not a sisterhood
As I say, these are heavy issues even for a veteran,
like me, of fifty Seders. Sometimes, like David Copperfield,
the famous Jewish illusionist, I use distraction when
I'm intellectually challenged. ╬Nobody's eating the
chopped liver," I announce; which I then pass to the
kids - an effective detour to an inquisitive six-year-old
who's waited until 8:30 for his supper.
So we talk and eat. Finally, we sing the traditional
songs in the Haggadah and we that the Lord that we live
in a free land where a knock on the door means visiting
friends, not Gestapo or the KGB.
The telling of the Exodus story, the journey of a mixed
multitude from slavery to a land of milk and honey told
at a bounteous table of food, is especially sweet in
the good ol' USA. Freedom and America; they go together
like honey and the fat, twisted loaves of white bread
we call Challah.
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