I was edged out on Friday evening. The carefully planned operation was carried out by grandson number two, the one with the red hair.
“Move over, Pop. I’ll do it,” he said firmly, prodding me in the ribs with a sharp elbow.
It’s like this: I say the Friday night kiddush. I have been saying it for 50 or 60 years now. I say it every Friday night. Winter and summer. With or without the book. Sitting, standing, or even pacing, if necessary. I can say it backwards, sideways, and upside down. I can say it faultlessly with the lights on or off. I can say it quickly in a monotone — or I can sing it like Pavarotti and and really schlep it out and turn it into quite a ceremony.
I began saying the kiddush on the Friday night after my bar mitzvah, when my own grandfather, who had been saying it since his bar mitzvah, called me to his side.
“You say it from now on, my boy,” he said in his unique accent, which he acquired first in Lithuania, then in Ireland, and finally in South Africa. He gratefully shoved the prayer book into my hands. In Johannesburg, where I grew up, the entire family got together every Shabbat evening to be with our grandparents and honor them.
“Don’t forget the tune,” he added after I had taken the book. The tune, such as it was, wasn’t much. Over the years it has degenerated into a toneless drone, which lasts all of a minute and comes to an abrupt end when the guests yell, “Amen!” with enthusiasm, their eyes already moving hungrily towards the steaming chicken soup.
Last Friday evening was like any other, except now I’m the grandfather, and my extended family lives in Israel, as do I. We assembled, with hungry children waiting to bite into the Shabbat special — chicken soup followed roast chicken and baked veggies — and anxious grandchildren milling around, wondering why they have to wait for the kiddush before they can tuck in.
Finally, silence descends. I fill the old family kiddush cup with grape juice and pick up the book. I don’t need it but I always hold it, just in case. It flops opens automatically on page 124, as it has done countless times before. I draw a breath — but before I can utter a sound, I get the elbow.
I look down and there stands the redhead, 8 years old and beaming with confidence. He has learned to read Hebrew at school, and he can’t wait to demonstrate his newly acquired skills. And demonstrate he does. He reads through the kiddush almost without drawing breath, hardly stumbling over the words that had once seemed strange and difficult to me. I thought back to the days when I started reciting the kiddush, and remembered with embarrassment how I had stammered and stuttered my way through it the first few times.
Even more aggravating was that my grandson clearly understands a lot of what he was reading. For my first 20 years or so, I was convinced the prayer was written in Mesopotamian or ancient Egyptian, so foreign did it sound. Only after Hebrew became our adopted language did things clarify. For my grandson, born into the Hebrew language, the words have meaning.
My first reaction at this domestic coup was one of pride. No one in the family ever undertook such an important role until after his bar mitzvah, but that was in the old country.
I wonder what grandfather would think. I’m sure he would be proud.