Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – LXXI. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – My Bar Mitzvah (3 of 5)

The great day was finally here. A made-to-measure suit was made for the occasion. It was my first suit, and I was proud like a peacock. When I slipped in it, I felt a bit strange, it was the first time I had worn long pants. Before that it was always shorts, even in the (mild) winter. This Bar Mitzvah suit stayed with me for many years, long after it was expected to fit me. It was dragged to Italy, Israel, and finally Canada. Eventually, a roommate talked me into giving it to the Salvation Army. And so it was that a Canadian boy, totally unbeknown to him, donned my Bar Mitzvah suit!

We were finally at the synagogue, Temple Hanan, and the time came when the Shammash (Beadle) called: “Aliyah for Itshak Ezri.” (Aliyah means to ascend, and I indeed ascended the Ekhal to read my portion of the Haftarah. Itshak is Hebrew for Isaac. Each Jewish person must have at least one biblical name; Roland, of course, will not do, and at birth I was given the middle name of Isaac). My reading was near flawless. After the Haftarah, I had the option of delivering a short daroush (sermon). I passed on that since I was too shy to do so in front of the congregation.

Back at home we shared a light brunch, and before we knew it, it was time for the festive part of the Bar Mitzvah to begin.

By now you no doubt have concluded that few things worked in Egypt the way they do on the rest of the planet. Therefore, you will not be taken by surprise if I told you that the festive part of my Bar Mitzvah did not unfold like your typical North American Bar Mitzvah.

My mother briefly considered preparing the food – with the help of Vittoria and Rachel – herself. It was a foolish idea, and it was quickly abandoned. Instead, it became a catered affair. And the caterer was none other than Aslan el Tabakh (Aslan the Cook). A descendant of a family who has been in the catering business for a long, long time. His grandfather has been the neighbor of nonna Bida, and he had taught her many of his secrets.

Note that Aslan el Tabakh is the name of the company; I do not remember the name of the gentleman who catered my Bar Mitzvah, but for this narrative, I will call him Haim. Haim did a first-rate job, and earned every penny of his fees. He had an army of helpers, and they all worked like beavers. The food was superb and included the usual roast beef, kebabs, chicken, tehina, many types of cooked potatoes, mayonnaise, and almazeyah (a jelly prepared from the bones of chickens and turkeys). The sweet table included konafa, baklawah, petits fours, zalabiah (honey balls), cakes, and one sumptuous cake on which was written: “Mazal Tov (Good Luck) Roland.” There was also all kinds of alcoholic beverages, and different cocktails were prepared upon request.

But where did this affair take place? Well, this is where it gets interesting. We did not rent a hall. Few people did that in those days. Instead 3 apartments were used. In our apartment we received the guests; after congratulating us and giving us their gifts, they left their coats in our house. Next, they proceeded one floor up to the apartment of the Levi family. Most of this apartment has been emptied (furniture left with another neighbor) and was now filled with chairs, small tables, and an empty floor for dancing.

The music was provided by a record player (turntable), electric if you please, they had just been invented. One of the guests had brought a stack of records for the occasion, and he became responsible for the music side of the equation. (A kind of D.J. circa 1950!). On a regular basis, the staff of Haim brought hors-d’oeuvres and drinks.

If you went one floor up, you arrived at the apartment of Maurice, my dad’s partner; and that is where the buffet was. Here again his apartment has been partially emptied with the furniture left with another neighbor.

The eating was a long-drawn process. It lasted for hours. Nothing is ever rushed in Egypt. The guests ate, or took their plates with them, and went down to dance and talk. Once in a while, Haim announced that he had brought new items. So people made the trek upstairs again.

Around the buffet table, the atmosphere was really jolly. Guests gossiped, reminisced, or joked. The part that I loved the most was when a guest lifted his glass for a brindisi (toast): “Ana achrab haza el kas …” “I drink from that cup …” The brindisis were very colorful, and as stomach filled, and more alcohol was consumed, they became somewhat risque. One of our relatives, Ed, was particularly good at that. He delivered one good brindisi after another; but as the alcohol level rose in his blood, his toasts made less and less sense, but somehow seemed funnier and funnier since the other guests were just as inebriated.

The apartment of our landlady, Marie, was used as Haim’s headquarters. He heated (on gas) the food there, and he brought an extra refrigerator. As well, he had buckets of ice. From this apartment, he instructed his staff, and planned his next move.  Marie told us later that he was like a general in the course of a battle.

Ultimately, 4 apartments were used, and 2 served as storage for excess furniture, this out of a total of 10 apartments; put another way, 60% of the building was involved in my Bar Mitzvah! For all intents and purposes, we had commandeered the building. Needless to say, everybody in the building had been invited, and they all attended.

Comments are closed.