By Hannah Reich Berman

The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued congratulations to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio on the election by his fellow cardinals as the new Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. Rabbi Marvin Hier said, “We have every reason to be confident that Pope Francis will be a staunch defender of the historic Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relation of the Church with non-Christian religions of the Second Vatican Council, which forever changed the relationship of the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.”

I’m not a big watcher of television programs. I often get more entertainment from commercials than I do from programs. Most days I am out of the house but, if I happen to be home, I will turn on the boob tube. As luck would have it, I was at home the day the new pope was being selected. The workings of the Catholic Church are not normally of great interest to me but, as this was history in the making, I tuned in and paid attention. Chances are I have paid attention over the years whenever a new pope was being chosen but, my memory being what it is, I didn’t retain much of what I learned at those times. So, until last week, I wasn’t exactly well informed about the process.

I actually didn’t even know who was in the running. The only thing I knew for sure was that it wasn’t a rabbi. But rabbis are small potatoes in the news world and, for that matter, so are priests. Not so the selection of a pope, which is in a category all its own–or as we members of the tribe say, it’s on a different madreigah! News bulletins were broadcast periodically all that day as the world waited to see who had been chosen. I listened and I got an education in spite of myself.

Eventually the world learned that the new pontiff was from Argentina and was the first Jesuit ever to be selected. As that is apparently a significant point of interest, I hesitate to admit that I don’t really know the difference between a Jesuit and a run-of-the-mill Roman Catholic, be he a cardinal, bishop, or archbishop. After the selection was announced, news commentators began to inform viewers about the history of the man, and one of the first bits of information to be released was that he had chosen a life of voluntary poverty. That’s when I sat up and took notice!

It impressed me since I wouldn’t choose a life of poverty for any reason. If poverty should happen to come my way, it will be strictly involuntary. Of course, with the cost of gasoline, health insurance, and my electric bill, to name just a few, impoverishment may come my way sooner than I expect.

Later that day it was reported that the new pope was so humble and modest that he wanted to hop a bus rather than ride in the special car that was available to him. That further impressed me, as I would never choose to get on a bus if I could get a car ride. I consider it a punishment when I’m in Manhattan and can’t find a taxi! Of course, spending money on taxi fares in the heart of New York City might be one of the things that will hasten a state of involuntary poverty, but that’s another story. My attitude no doubt renders me anything but humble and doesn’t bode well for my choosing humility. Were I a male, a Catholic, and even a cardinal or an archbishop, I would still never be a candidate for the papacy. I’m just not cut out for poverty. Nevertheless, I sincerely wish this man well, as should we all.

Having given equal time to members of another religion, it’s time to hark back to my own. The holiday at hand is Passover and, coincidentally, this is a chag that could help anyone to attain a state of poverty. But at Pesach I have other business to attend to. It is a time when I have some serious thinking to do. My cerebral challenge is not about cleaning the house, planning menus, schlepping out Pesach recipes, or shopping. All of those are givens and need no mention. What I need to think about are my personal Passover greetings. It would be nice to settle on one greeting and one greeting only. It sounds simple, but in the past I have never done that. Instead, my greetings differ. They depend on whether I am speaking to an older person or a younger one and to someone who is Hebrew speaking or one who prefers a Yiddish greeting. My greeting also depends on whether the person I address is an observant Jew or a more secular one.

This is the breakdown. I sometimes say “chag kosher v’sameach” and at other times I go with the abbreviated version of “chag sameach.” To more secular Jews, I offer “Have a happy Passover” or “Have a sweet Passover.” To those who I sense are more comfortable with a Yiddish greeting, I say “Gutten yomtov,” “a zeesen Pesach,” or “a kosher freilechen Pesach.” And, when expressing that last wish, I inevitably pronounce the word kosher as “koosher.” As I am not a Yiddish speaker, there is no rational reason for me to say “koosher.” I think I do it because it reminds me of my parents’ greetings. And nostalgia is closely associated with all holidays.

This decision-making zaps my energy. And that’s a problem since, around Pesach time, I have precious little energy to begin with. Just the thought of grating a horseradish root is enough to send me to a rest home. I go to my children, so I haven’t made a Seder of my own for years; but, in an effort to be of some help, I ended up on maror detail. I believe they caught me at a weak moment when I said I would be happy to make the charoses for all of them. Somehow “charoses” got translated to “charoset AND maror.” They seem to go hand-in-hand, like matzah and jelly.

I continue to ruminate about which greeting I will give and to whom I will give it. This presupposes, of course, that I know who is comfortable with Hebrew and who would be happier hearing Yiddish. It also presumes that I know who is Orthodox and who is not. And let’s face it, how do I know that for sure and what business is it of mine? But I am who I am, and who I am is a person who likes talking mama lashon (using one’s mother tongue) to everyone. So I hope that I insult no one whether I give a Passover greeting in Hebrew, English, or Yiddish.

Let me now extend my Pesach greetings. But there are no choices here. I need to settle on one that will sound good to everybody. Still, I confess to obsessing over what I am about to write. Old habits die hard.

Wishing everyone a very happy Passover! v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.

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