KJ Hannah Greenberg

The Great Matzah Heist

Years ago, when Missy Older, Older Dude, Missy Younger, and Younger Dude were children, rather than parents of their own children, and lived with Computer Cowboy and me, rather than in their own homes, we had much fun with afikomen hiding. Both the adults and the children in my family were involved in various shenanigans around our annual hiding and recovering of afikomens.

Once, before we made aliyah, rather than place the bag containing the afikomen behind a pillow, in a closet, or wherever, the grownups from the five families at our table (actually, only the moms) passed the afikomen from lap to lap, hidden from sight. Computer Cowboy, who was leading the seder, thought one of the families’ children had snuck the encased matzah from where he had temporarily placed it behind his pillow. It wasn’t until he and I were washing dishes after the second day of chag had ended that I told him that I was the one who had lifted the afikomen from his chair.

Anyway, that bit of stealth went well until one mom felt that we adults were being unfair to her (and the others’) children. Accordingly, she removed the package from her lap and handed it to one of her kids, who then claimed the prize designated for the afikomen’s recovery.

Another year, long after we had made aliyah, we were hosting foreign, i.e., North American, bucharim for two seders. A sister of one of the bucharim, who, too, was an olah, and who, similar to my family, was celebrating the second seder in order to provide for the young men, thus, didn’t have to keep the halacha on that second night.

Hence, when the youths searched for the afikomen, eventually, it was revealed that our young, female friend had stolen it and then had hidden it in our microwave. Comparable to us, she was allowed to engage in many of the thirty-nine melachot, including turning on and off electricity, in general, and electrical appliances, more specifically—Israelis celebrate only one day of first chag, only a single seder. Her flummoxed brother and his yeshivah friends, on the other hand, had to observe two days of Passover’s first chag, two seders. So, even had they realized that the afikomen had been placed in an appliance, they couldn’t have opened the microwave’s door to retrieve it. We gave them prizes, anyway; each bucher was awarded a sefer to enjoy during Mo’ed.

Years passed. Our kids grew crafty. My husband and I responded to their cunning by reviewing the halacha on the afikomen. Apparently, if that bit of unleavened bread is unfindable or is otherwise unredeemable, it’s possible to finish the seder meal with other matzah. This work around served us well until the year of The Great Matzah Heist.

That year, our kids, who were already teens and preteens, spent a measurable amount of time in Missy Older’s room giggling. Giggling is not a bad thing for youth to do. However, it can be ominous.

That is, that year’s seder proceeded fairly normally until we needed our kids to search for the afikomen. More precisely, during the portion of the seder that was prior to the seudah, some family members and some guests were full of bravado when eating the maror (fresh raw horseradish not only tastes bitter but along brings gastrointestinal challenges, too.) Also, some family members and some guests were full of Torah; the dvrai Torah flowed, BH, more than the wine. Likewise, some family members and some guests were full of gratitude, both for Am Yisrael’s historic and current freedoms and for being able to join together to celebrate those freedoms. One guest even zested our table by reading from our multilingual Haggadah in four languages. All in all, it was a fine evening.

More exactly, it was fine until the issue of the afikomen came to the fore. At first, it was only the matter of our kids asked their abba to search for it since they had snatched and hidden it.

He acquiesced. First, he looked in the kitchen. Nothing. Next, he looked in the dining room. Nothing. Thereafter, he looked in the living room, in each bedroom, and on our mirpesset. Nothing, nothing, nothing (Computer Cowboy did not look in the bathrooms since food was never allowed there.)

It was getting late. Our children and their friends were cackling. The adults were looking tired. Finally, my husband announced that we would use different matzah to conclude the meal. He recited halacha. For some reason, his pronouncement made our kids laugh harder.

Climbing on a stool, my man reached for the first of the matzah boxes lining the top of our bookcases. It was empty. The next box and the one after it, too, were empty, too. In fact, all of the boxes were proven to be barren.

The our kids ran into Missy Older’s bedroom. They returned with a note, which they presented to my partner. The note was formed from individual letters cut from magazines and newspapers and then glued into words and sentences. It was a ransom note!

I don’t recall the nature of the ransom. I doubt our children remember, either; those boys and girls were more interest in stumping us than in receiving prizes. After all, they were “big kids,” nearly adults.

Many years have since passed. These days, only our grandchildren care about searching for the afikomen. However, as they usually spend the seder at their own homes, we’ve come up with an alternate multigenerational search. The night before Pesach, we arm each of those dear ones with a feather and a wooden spoon. For safety’s sake, Computer Cowboy is in charge of lighting up dark corners. He uses a flashlight, not a candle.

It’s delicious to share a bit of Pesach (prep) with the newest generation. However, I don’t know if, when they are older, they’ll conduct their own Great Matzah Heist.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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