I didn’t have a Seder this year. I was running around on a beach with my sons, their wives, and our 4 grandchildren, the whole chaotic lot of us kicking soccer balls and tossing Frisbees and digging for perfectly round sand dollars while the sun began its descent into the water, waves of light sparkling off waves of water. We tripped over crab skeletons and dead birds as we dived for the balls. The oldest of us braved impossible leaps to catch a wildly tossed Frisbee, landing splat on the sand like a beached whale, blubbering with laughter. The youngest of us stationed herself smack center of our wobbly circle, reaching for every toss, diving for every ball, a huge fearless spirit housed in a very tiny body.
It was a vacation planned a year ago—this being my husband’s 70th birthday year, and our 20th anniversary. We put down a deposit on a cruise ship adventure, but images of sloshed overweight Republicans and seasick daughters-in-law kept me up too many nights. At the eleventh hour we cancelled the reservation and opted for a 5-bedroom house on the beach, somewhere between our respective Southern and Northern California coastlines.
My childhood family didn’t exactly play on beaches. The foggy memories I have of vacations with my parents and big sister entail images of my mother knitting on a sofa, my father reading books on medieval theology, and my sister and I busying ourselves with whatever coloring books or board games someone remembered to bring. We might as well have been in our living room at home, instead of Santa Barbara, or Catalina, or La Jolla – all short drives from our home, where the only difference we could discern were ocean views (and who cared about ocean views?) and a different set of restaurants offering Coq au Vin for Mom, French Dip sandwich for Dad, and why is it that I only remember what they ordered?
So this family vacation on the beach, comprised of 3 generations, was really my first, if one defines family vacation as something eagerly anticipated and joyously received.
Our ages ranging from 5 to 70, there was something for everyone—spa treatments, golf on a world class golf course, campfires complete with s’mores, roller coasters and water slides, boat rides with sea otters and pelicans and hundreds of honking seals. Plenty of gin and tonics. A baby seal appeared lost one morning right in front of our house. We took turns posing for pictures beside him, hoping his mother would find him. He was eventually called back into the waves but we were eating bagels by then and missed the reunion. The days were long and flew by–cousins disappearing into their own adventures, collecting sea shells and rocks, playing hide and seek, doing what children have always done when nature is the featured entertainment.
And so the last night came and we migrated like a flock of birds down to the beach in front of our house, tossing Frisbees and kicking soccer balls, as the sun went down behind us. Perfect I thought, and then remembered. Passover. Tonight’s the first night of Passover. I whispered the news flash to my son. “Guess we’re not having a seder this year” he winked back as I almost missed the soccer ball that came flying toward me, my granddaughter’s kick much more powerful than mine.
“Get it Grandma!” she yelled, but I had stopped to think about the tablecloths, the matzos tucked into their cover, the platter of bitter herbs and sweet apple mixture, all symbols of freedom not being celebrated tonight as this small family instead played together on the sand, backlit by a sunset that seemed to be whispering our prayers.
Nobody in my family misses seders. You’d have to be dead to miss a seder, but all I had to do was take my family to a beach house. Please don’t judge me. It was a primitive sort of prayer I spoke on the sand, watching my sons and their wives, my husband, laughing children dotted in between us, basking in a light that I thought would never shine this brightly over the once-broken lot of us.
Why is this night different from all other nights I said out loud, but nobody heard my prayer. How could they, with the crashing of waves and giddy screams of the young ones all but drowning out the darker cries of our history.
I won’t tell anyone. When people ask if me I had a good seder I will say yes. The best one ever.