White Pesach evokes ties to writer’s past

Lena Fish, a Russian journalist living in St. Louis, writes about her countrymen who have settled here and has been a regular contributor to the St. Louis Jewish Light.

By Lena Fish

The first Pesach night this year was certainly quite different from any other nights, at least as far as I remember living here, in St. Louis. First, simply by looking outside the window one could see a winter wonderland as magical as any in my mother Russia. The white Pesach inspired our seder host, Rick Cornfeld, to welcome his guests humorously with, “Why did G-d send us snow for Passover this year?  Well, there was one city where it was 77 degrees today; Maybe G-d wants us to take the words, ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ seriously this year.”  

Rick and Marcy Cornfeld came to my life through the Jewish Federation host family program at the time of our exodus from the former Soviet Union 21 years ago. Since then they have become close friends, being always available for me in times of hardship, joy and sorrow, and as my role model. Their tight bond to Jewish family life and Judaism guided me on the long road of many personal discoveries. It is impossible to recall all of the Jewish life cycle events that we celebrated together. But the recent seder was one of the most special. 

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It started as always around a lovingly decorated Passover table with the Hagaddah reading, some improvised re-enactments and enthusiastic singing along in Hebrew and Aramaic. Slowly we reached one of my favorite moments, when the youngest child recites Mah Nishtanah, the four questions. I suspect it is the joy and pride of any Jewish parent to listen to her son or daughter doing it in front of a crowd. 

At the Cornfelds’ seders, there was never any lack of kids willing to chant this part either in English or Hebrew: their two daughters Lisa and Sari, as well as their cousins Jordan and Eden Newmark. Well, none of them are children any longer, but rather beautiful young ladies, who came to St. Louis from their places of study or work to celebrate with family. 

However, there was a small boy, Charlie, with his parents, Senator Roy Blunt and his wife Abby, among the guests. As I learned, the Cornfelds had met Senator Blunt through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (“AIPAC”) and invited him and his family for seder.

To my surprise, the 8-year old Charlie was adopted as an infant from the Russian town of Ryazan which is not far from Moscow where I came from. Even more surprisingly, his mother Abby is Jewish, and Charlie takes religious classes in one of the reform temples in Washington.  So, the boy with a typically Slavic look was content in his role and recited all four questions with no problem.

The dinner that followed was delicious; especially because of family secrets that put a special accent on the many dishes. Then, after the hunt for the afikomen and the conclusion of the Hagaddah reading were done, the Cornfelds had two extras: singing “Hatikvah” and “God Bless America”. And just like many seders before, I felt that strong sense of Jewish identity and spiritual elevation that must have strengthened the Jewish people when leaving Egypt.