Several years ago, friends of ours downsized their home; they went from a large house in Meyerland to a small unit in a highrise. It suited them: Their kids had moved and were living in a different part of the country, so downsizing made sense, particularly because they also had a beach house in Galveston, Texas. That house was the gathering place for them and their family throughout the years. But, most particularly, it was the home where large groups of us celebrated Passover together.
It would be difficult to count the numbers of individuals, adults and children, who, over the years, shared that holiday with them. Originally, the holiday was celebrated in Houston, but once they bought the beach house, it became the home where almost 40 of us gathered together each year to celebrate Passover. It was the place where Elijah never failed to visit and participate in the Passover meal. It wasn’t really a matter of being invited; you knew, for close to 50 years, that theirs was the home where you would gather, celebrate the holiday, banter back and forth, ask the Four Questions and interject humor into this wonderful experience.
My friends, who hosted the meal, were serious with the regard to its religious significance, but they also went out of their way to introduce new, unique additions to entertain the children and adults, alike. Their serious nature held us together, while the jokes and side barbs made by numerous of the participants, added to the flavor of the evening. Of course, food was a major part of this celebration, and everyone kind of knew what they were bringing.
My wife brought the brisket, and I must admit that she makes a mean brisket. Others brought salad, side dishes and boxes of kosher candy and sweets. The drive to Galveston, though you might think of it as an ordeal, was really pleasurable, mostly because you anticipated being part of a wonderful group of people with whom you would share warm feelings of camaraderie, closeness and spirituality that would prevail throughout the evening.
To be honest, it was a tradition that you never thought would end. But, sad to say, that’s what has occurred. Earlier this year, our friends sold their beach house. The last Seder at their home is to be celebrated by only their immediate family. No matter where they live, they’re going to Galveston for the last meal. Part of the event will involve the sharing of various items of furniture, etc., and other things of sentimental value among the individuals. But, the 30-odd guests, who for nearly 50 years, had gathered with them, are not included.
There’s no way to fault them; their decision is very understandable. It is a meaningful event in their lives that involves a major change for them. Their downsized unit in Houston never could hold 40 people, and, when you really get down to it, cooking, arranging and orchestrating an affair of this magnitude for that many people is a major undertaking which requires an awful lot of stamina, energy and effort. Sadly, as the years passed, some of that energy, stamina and effort tends to pass, as well.
On an intellectual basis, their decision more than makes sense, and no one that I’ve spoken with has said otherwise. However, emotionally, it is a sad occasion. It’s almost like a death. You know it is coming, but you don’t want to believe it. I can’t speak for the other guests, but I’d like to speak for my family and say that “it’s been a wonderful ride. One that I – really we – will sorely miss, but one, which will, for the rest of our lives, include fond memories of children overindulging on Manischewitz wine and crashing on the couch, but only after they searched for the afikomen and got their reward of Passover gelt.
There are, of course, numerous other memories – my fondest of which is the year the electricity went out in Galveston, and we held the service by candlelight. So, it’s sad to know it’s over, but it is a testimony to the fact that traditions of this sort, which involve the gathering together of family, whether it celebrates the Jewish people’s escape from Egypt, or anything else, is infinitely valuable, emotionally and spiritually.
It makes me want to say: If you don’t have a tradition similar to this one, start one, don’t let time and age interfere. It’s never too late to celebrate together, to acknowledge your history and culture and to celebrate who you are and why you are the people you are.
To Hy and Shirley, I want to say, “Thank you,” on behalf of myself, my family, and I know on behalf of the other guests, who, over the years, have sat at your table and been a part of your extended family. Thank you for the memories, for the laughter, for the good times, for the closeness and the heartfelt emotions, both good and sad, that we’ve shared for nearly 50 years. To everyone else: Happy Passover. Celebrate it, cherish the time and the people you are with and, if you know of anyone who is alone, invite them to your celebration. Even more, start your own Passover group. Gather some friends together and start a tradition that possibly could last for another 50 years.