“That’s Nothing!” called out the man with shiny round eyes, like Porsche headlights, who had been sitting all this time in a corner by the window, seducing scotch after scotch and listening to our stories of divorce, debt, and lawsuits. “I’ll tell you a story of a theft that took place in our neighbourhood, at my aunt’s Passover Seder during a playoff game. Against the Leafs, no less!
“Our neighbourhood, Hampstead – that’s where I grew up, you know – is a quiet, modestly posh suburb of Montreal. Every house either has a swimming pool or a dog and the lawns are various shades of green. There is no crime there. Nobody steals for the simple reason that no one knows anyone well enough to know if they have anything that’s worth stealing. A Jew isn’t a thief by nature, anyways. He may be a shady bastard, a real son of a bitch, but not the sort who’ll climb through a window or blow you away with a machine gun. He’ll sue the pants off you, argue to the city that your tree’s roots were on his property, sleep with your wife, talk behind your back, or not invite you to his country house; but he won’t pull anything out of your pocket. Imagine then, a theft taking place in Hampstead, and a real whopper at that. Eighteen diamonds in one swoop.
“Here’s how it went down. At the Passover Seder, just before dinner, an out-of-town uncle rang the door. He was a salesman of some sort from New York who always smelt of leather. Coming in just as we were closing our Haggadas and the housekeepers were marching out the soups, he stood at the dining room entrance with large crinkly bags dripping from his fingers.
‘Shalom Aleichem,’ said he.
‘Uncle Morty!’ we answered. ‘What are you doing in Montreal?’
‘I had a business meeting, don’t ask.’
‘Cindy and the kids?’
‘They’re at her side of the family probably having a terrible meal.’
‘And you’re here?’
‘Where the hell do you want me to be, a soup kitchen?’
‘Then you’re hungry?’
‘What’s in the bags, Uncle Morty?’
‘Ah, you don’t think I’d come empty handed, do you?’
‘Our houses are too small for more chatchkes,’ said the wives.
‘Shit, the game’s starting,’ said the men.
“The men charged like Israelites escaping Pharaoh into the den and the hired help was instructed to serve dinner on stainless steel serving platters, with disposable cutlery. ‘If they wanted my good China they should have stayed at the table,’ said Auntie Sheila to her housekeeper as she opened drawers and gathered white plastic cutlery packages of fork-spoon-knife which she had been pillaging from the fast-food cafeteria on her lunch breaks.
“The TV was turned on and the proper channel quickly found. Hockey Night in Canada. Canadiens vs. Leafs; Montreal vs. Toronto, game 1 of the quarter finals. Oh, the suspense! The indigestion! This game was certainly more perilous than forty years in the desert without bread. I don’t need to tell you what was at stake. After decades of the Montreal Jewish population oozing down the 401 to Toronto like a wound that wouldn’t heal, this game was for bragging rights. But I’m getting off track, forgive me.”
The man with the eyes that bulged like Porsche headlights paused, looked to see what effect his words had on us, and continued.
“We found Uncle Morty a spot on the couch. He kept a black sack balanced on his knees with one hand on it at all times as we ate. He did it all while emailing on his iPhone – that only a New Yorker can do!
“But when it was all over, when the final blast of the third period had died down, the three stars announced, Manishevitz bottles emptied, and when the Montreal Canadiens, doubled over and sweaty, had marched back to their locker room to explain the loss to the press – “they capitalized on some key turnovers…” suddenly screams were heard. ‘Fuck! Shit! Fuck!” We looked around: Uncle Morty was bent over the couch, strangling the pillows. What was his problem? You wouldn’t believe me if I told you! He tells us that he had brought with him a black sack filled with eighteen diamonds. To leave diamonds at the hotel – think of it, eighteen diamonds – he had been afraid. Where would the diamonds be safe in Montreal? Only with him. Hindsight is 20/20, but Jews have such lousy eyesight to begin with that we don’t even trust our hindsight….And somehow, the sack had disappeared at the end of the game when everyone was crying into his neighbour’s shoulder.
“Well, the poor guy cried, tore his hair, rattled his fists. What was he going to do now? They weren’t his diamonds, he said. He had just been doing his friend a favour by picking them up in Montreal. He himself couldn’t afford eighteen diamonds – not with his children’s private school tuitions and his wife’s ravenous appetite for sandy vacations. He was royally screwed.
“The crowd stood petrified, forgetting that they all had work or school the next morning, that the dog needed to be let out and it was already getting late. It was disgusting that this had happened to our family, an embarrassment and a scandal in our own eyes. A theft like that – eighteen diamonds! And when? While the Habs were wheezing down the final seconds of a painful defeat.
“ ‘Honey, lock the door!’ ordered Auntie Sheila’s husband, Dr. Larry Finklestein the dermatologist. When the door was locked, Dr. Larry climbed on to his wobbly chair, his face red as a lobster and his hands waving, making broad gestures in the air.
“He said, ‘Now everyone listen to me. Under my roof there’s a thief; a disgrace to our family, who has the chutzpah to steal from Morty. And on what day? Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs! I swear this probably jinxed the whole game. We lost to the Maple Leafs because of this, I just know it. Someone will be held accountable. There will be a reckoning, oh yes! Whoever stole those diamonds is giving them back and they’re giving them back right now. Let’s search each other now, go through each other’s pockets, shake out our purses and wallets – all of us from the oldest to the youngest, not leaving anyone out. Start with me. Search my pockets first!’
“That’s what Larry said, and he was the first to pull his pockets inside out. Following his example, we all loosened our belts and emptied our pockets. The men searched the men. The women searched the women. The women searched the men – since we are not such good lookers, it’s true. Purses were spilled, wallets were emptied. Until it came David Applebaum’s turn, who, first pretended that he had already been searched and who when, seeing no one believed him, argued that, in the first place, Morty was a liar, that his story was pure fabrication. There had never been any diamonds in that sack. Couldn’t they see that he was just looking to make a quick buck off his gullible Canadian relatives?
“The room got very loud. What did he mean? All the uncles and aunts had allowed themselves to be searched, lawyers and doctors among us, so what makes David Applebaum so special? There were no exceptions here. ‘Search him! Search him!’ the crowd roared.
“David Applebaum began to plead for mercy with tears in his eyes. He begged us not to search him. He swore on his father’s life that he was innocent in this — and anything else, while we were on the subject. How do you like that? Do you think we listened to him?
“Hold on a second… I forgot to tell you who this David Applebaum was. He wasn’t a Zunenshine by blood. He came from somewhere near Winnipeg, if I remember correctly and he had met Larry and Sheila’s daughter while studying at McGill. A great addition to our family, Auntie Sheila had boasted; from a rich family, related to the Bronfmans, a real Mr. Bigshot. He knew how to network and he got a Christmas card from every big name in town. He owned both a summer Mercedes and a winter Mercedes, a city house and a country house. And educated? Forgetaboutit. Even though he was a business man, David Applebaum seemed to know more about the law than a lawyer, more about history than a historian, more about plants than the gardener. He was a master of Scrabble, too, and had been a ranked tennis player in high school; a man faster on his feet you have never seen. Soon after their daughter had introduced him, David began going to hockey games with Larry. He took to the Habs like he took to everything else: with complete determination to be the best. Well, the man devoured statistics, watched biographies – even bought Canadiens socks and underpants. We all tried our best to stump him. ‘What was Maurice Richard’s brother’s name?’ ‘How many overtime victories did we win in the 1993 playoffs?’ What were the most Stanley Cups won in a row?’ But nothing tripped him up. This guy was good — a little too good, if you catch my drift. He was too clever, too knowledgeable about the Habs’ regular season schedule. When we watched hockey games at Larry and Sheila’s house he was always the last to arrive and the first to leave. He would follow the game but not cheer at the right places, often looking like he wasn’t even paying attention to the game – and he didn’t look like he lost much sleep when our captain, Saku Koivu, was battling cancer.
“And so, when it was his turn to be searched and he refused, that was all the proof most of us needed that he was our man. He begged us to forget the whole matter, begged us to chop him, roast him, cut him up – he even offered to write a cheque to replace the diamonds if we would just not empty his pockets out. At this point even Larry went apeshit on the guy and started to yell.
“ ‘You!’ he cried. ‘You’ve got some nerve! Do you know what you deserve? You see what all of us have gone through? Do you see how upset you’ve made your mother-in-law? Everyone else has endured the embarrassment of being searched, but you want to be the only exception! Jesus Christ! Either come clean and hand them over, or let us see for ourselves what’s in your pockets.
“To get to the point, the uncles seized him by the shirt, wrestled him down on the floor, and began to search him all over. And finally they shook out… Well, guess! A well-gnawed bagel and a crumpled Mise-O-Jeu ticket with $200 on the Leafs to win. You can imagine what an impression this made – to discover he had placed money against the Habs on this most sensitive of days.
“Poor Uncle Larry! He turned away in shame. He couldn’t look anyone in the face. Betting on the Leafs, and in his house… As for the rest of us, tired as we were, we couldn’t stop talking about it the whole drive home. We laughed hysterically. Only Larry didn’t laugh, but walked upstairs to bed, his head lowered, pained, as though the ticket had been shaken out of his own pockets.”
The story was apparently over. Casually, the man with the round eyes like Porsche headlights turned back to the window and started sipping his Martini.
“Well,” we all asked in one voice, “what happened to the diamonds?”
“What diamonds?” asked the man innocently, looking at something out the window.
“What do you mean – what diamonds? The eighteen diamonds!”
“Oh,” he drawled. “The eighteen diamonds. They were gone.”
– This story is a modern adaptation of the short story “A Yom Kippur Scandal,” by Shalom Aleichem. Check out these clips to hear the original story read in Yiddish with subtitles and see how the Yom Kippur Scandal has been updated for 21st Century Montreal Jewry.
Joshua Levy is an entrepreneur who loves to write. His work has been published in Maisonneuve Magazine, Event, Feathertale, the Canadian Jewish News, Poetry-Quebec, and three Vehicle Press collections. He is the winner of the 2010 CBC Writing Competition and was long-listed for the 2012 Montreal International Poetry Prize. He lives in Montreal and this year will not be watching the Montreal Canadiens during the Seder.