It was a little after 9:30pm last Tuesday evening, the night before Pesach, or Passover. Services at the Orthodox Synagogue in West Palm Beach had ended shortly before. A group of men similarly dressed in long black satin coats with beaver hats covering their kepis (Yiddish for “head”) walked down Worth Avenue to the intersection with South Ocean Boulevard and the beach. One of the men, with his long gray beard, was the elder of the group. Several women walked behind the men. They wore long skirts and headscarves over their wigs, symbols of propriety and of marriage. They were Hasidim–members of a strict, Orthodox branch of Judaism. The men and women gathered in front of the Worth Avenue Clock landmark at the crossroad. A streetlamp cast a warm circular light around them. One of the younger men offered his arm to the elder for support as they made their way across to a line of wooden benches along the beachfront. The women continued walking separately and settled onto benches further down, away from the men. The women conversed in hushed voices as the wind from the northeast blew softly against their unmade-up faces. The elder, seated at a bench among the men, hunched over an open book as he read aloud a prayer, his glasses perched on his nose. The other men stood around him and rocked gently on their heels, listening, their movements evocative of the flickering flame of their faith. The Worth Avenue clock chimed ten times. The men looked up and over to the women. The elder was helped to his feet by the outstretched hand of a young man. Supported on both sides, the elder led the men over to where the women were seated. “Good erav Pesach,” he said. The women returned his greeting. “Nu ihr zi grayt mahr Pesach?” he asked. (Are you ready for Pesach?”) It was a question heard many times that evening. The women nodded and smiled. “Velchen shmurah matzah haht ihr gekoift dem yahr?” (What brand of matzah did you buy this year?”) This started a lively conversation about what would be served at the much-anticipated Passover meal. One young man held out his hand to one of the older women, his bubbeh (grandmother), who reached up and gripped it as she stood from her seat. Then everyone stood and pairing off, chatted as they strolled back across South Ocean Boulevard. The full moon shined overhead coloring the line of Hasidim with a bright, golden glow as the group continued on up Worth Avenue and slowly disappeared past the unlit shop windows in the distance.
One thought on “Before Pesach”
A lovely reminder of tradition set against the backdrop of Palm Beach’s affluent Worth Avenue.