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One of the greatest journalists of the last generation, Bernard Levin, described how, when he was a small boy, a great celebrity came to visit his school. The headmaster, perhaps wanting to impress, called the young Levin to the platform in front of the whole school. The celebrity, perhaps wanting to be kind, asked the little boy what he'd had for breakfast.

"Matzobrei," replied Levin. A typical central European Jewish dish, Matzobrei is made of eggs fried with matzo wafers, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Levin's immigrant mother had continued to make it even after years of living in London. To him, it was a perfectly ordinary word for a perfectly ordinary meal.

But the celebrity, ignorant of such cuisine, thought he'd misheard. He repeated his question. Levin, now puzzled and anxious, gave the same answer. The celebrity looked concerned and glanced at the headmaster: What is this word he's saying? The headmaster, adopting a there-there-little-man tone, asked Levin once more what he had had for breakfast. Dismayed, not knowing what he'd done wrong, and wanting to burst into tears, the boy said once more the only answer he could honestly give: "Matzobrei." After an exchange of incredulous glances on the platform, the terrified little boy was sent back to his place. The incident was never referred to again, but to him it was a horrible ordeal.

A Jewish word spoken to an uncomprehending world; a child's word spoken to uncomprehending adults; a word for a food of which others were unaware—it all feels very Johannine. "In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was made flesh" (John 1:1, 14). We are so used to that passage, the great cadences, the solemn but glad message of the Incarnation, that we risk skipping over the ...

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December 2006

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