Yitzik the Shikor’s Passover Seder – Yishai Margulies

In the Ukrainian Oblast of Galicia, by the border of Poland, the new season had come. The little shtetl of Tluste had just finished sowing their small allotment of land with wheat and barley. The Jewish residents of the small village were not as poor as some Jews, but were not as rich as everyone wished to be. The land was no longer cold, which was a blessing. The Cosack’s tax for the new season would not be as bad as it had been in recent years. Even the poorest of the villagers could expect to keep an extra chicken, or a few more eggs, or maybe some beer, so they were blessed. The springtime holiday of Pesach was approaching. In Rabbi Yechiel’s Yeshiva, as had been tradition in the small village since time immemorial, the brightest students of the rabbi gathered by his feet, a nose width from his shaking cane, to try and hear his quiet lesson for the holiday. Even the children not in his Yeshiva, though less inclined to studiousness, cherished the days when they could leave the fields and sit amongst the Yeshiva students. The best students would take it upon themselves to quiet the rest of the boys when the rabbi spoke. This was to prevent anyone from laughing at his high, trembling voice. His words came out slow enough that he could meet the eyes of each and every one his students between words, so as to make sure they all understood no breath was wasted. The rabbi instructed the students to remember how, in the holy land, the annual harvest was taking place. However, at that time in the village, the crops had just been planted, and the villagers were still surviving off of their rations from last year’s harvest. The rabbi told the students, because of this, their families would have to try very hard to offer what they could to the poor – even harder than those in the holy land. Because of this, he said, they were blessed.

There were no rich in the town, but there were richer. This was a reality some prided themselves with. The rabbi would tell the students that it is okay to be poor, but lamented how no one should be poorer. The richer men of the town – who had a few more chickens, or owned a nicer Sidur, or a healthier cow – would meet together after the Mashke was closed and the bulk of the drunken farmers had to go home to their wives. They would drink the better Vodka that the barkeeper bought when he went to Lamberg in the summer. They would talk about their chickens, or their cow, or their new tablecloth, and would talk about the others of the town. In particular was Yitzik, or as they called, Yitzik, “the shikor.” Poor Yitzik, who on the night of his daughter’s wedding, intended to gift the groom a bottle of Slivovitz he proudly traded his two chickens for at the Goyish market but didn’t. Unfortunately for the couple, the modest Slivovitz never made it to the wedding. Neither did Yitzik. To no one’s surprise, the lowly bottle was found not far from the proud father, lying in the road, just out of reach of his sleeping hand. The men at the table shuddered at the story, all took down the drink from their glass, and agreed that such a man would not soil their Pesach Seder.

It was the day of Pesach and the wives of the wealthier men were preparing the Mikdash to be ready for sundown. At this point, the Rabbi had reminded the rest of the village that they must work hard for one another at this time. The rich intended to share a seder with the rabbi, and upon hearing his advice, began to prepare their finest treasures for him to see. The wives made sure that their chicken was cooked in fine oil and their silver candleholders were clean. The women were preparing the rabbi’s seat at the front of the table with the biggest piece of gefilte fish, and the best bottle of wine they could find was ready to be opened. There were only 20 seats in the hall of the Mikdash including the Rabbi’s. The men decided this was for the best. Everyone attending would be able to have their fill. The men informed the highest standing members of the community, along with the students from the Yeshiva and their mothers, that this Pesach would surely impress the Rabbi most of all. They told their guests that there would be no drunks.

Their feast was prepared, and they waited for the Rabbi. But sundown came, and the Rabbi had not yet arrived. The men went over to the Rabbi’s home to make sure he was not ill, but he was not there. They sent their children to the Goyish market to see if anyone knew his whereabouts, no one did. Not one person at the Seder knew where he could be.

The rich men walked through the main road of the shtetl. Few candles still burned in the windowsills of the shacks. Many slices of Matzah had been broken, and many platters had been cleared. Where only the children could have their fill, the fathers looked to their vodka. For some who’s bottles had dried, their books kept them full and rich. But when their candles had died, and their books were dark, all they had were their beds. For some, weary of the thought of another day, there was the Mashke. There was more vodka and there were others, like them, with reason to drink. They sang, and they danced. Not a person would judge another man, not when the Rabbi was present, at least. 

From the Mashke, the rich men heard their cheer. The Klezmer was fiddling away. The men were astonished to hear such insolence. On the night of Pesach, while the Rabbi was missing, the poorest of the town seemed to not care. They went over, furious with the noise. When they opened the door, no one stopped to pay them attention.

“Have you no shame, partying like drunks on the night of Pesach while the rabbi is missing?” shouted one of the rich men.

Only then, when the fiddler stopped and the dancing men stood could they see Yitzik the shikor. He looked as he usually did, save for one thing. Rather than a bottle, it was the hand of the rabbi’s that he was holding with his right. Seeing this, the rich men hurried back to their feast. They took whatever bottles were unopened, and brought them back to the Mashke. Their wives carried with them their gefilte fish that had gone cold. Some woke their children to join in the celebration. Everyone was very pleased this Pesach. No one had forgotten to come. 

Yishai never liked school. His teachers didn’t like him either. Instead of working on their projects, he spent most of his time writing. He largely wrote about public education and its purpose in an oppressive system. Yishai spent the months following high school traveling, working in Israel and the United States. He is currently still travelling, working as a merchant sailor. He spends his off time working on his writing. 

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