Last night, at the second seder with friends here at the beach, after we sang a rousing round of "Take Me Out to the Seder," we played a Passover seder game I've never played before. Each adult and each child was given a chance to theoretically "hide the matzah." It could be anywhere in the world (or in the galaxy,) with anyone living or dead, in the present or sometime in history. Then the rest of us got to play 20 questions. Quite a pantheon of places and times choose from.
After a few really fun and creative hiding places (with the elephant in the Museum of Natural History, stuck in between Abraham Lincoln's fingers in the Lincoln Memorial, under the second base plate in Yankee Stadium,) my youngest was up. He thought for a minute, and then he had it. After a few questions, we narrowed it down to Israel (which we had visited as a family two summers ago) but no one could figure out exactly where in Israel. All of a sudden it hit me – it had to be with a relative. And soon after I won the round by guessing that it was in Cousin Bonnie's apartment in Haifa.
My children are growing up with the power of family. It is something that I craved ferociously as a child, and never really had. As an adult, trying to create what I thought was missing from my childhood, I have turned my friends into my extended family – even holidays are often spent with friends, including this Passover. It is a family of choice and destination, rather than origin, and we rely on each other for many things. I truly believe that I can call on my friends for just about anything.
But it's not family. There's something about blood ties that bind us to each other in a way that no other relationship matches.
My mother was an only child and an orphan by the age of 13, so there is virtually no family on that side, with the exception of one family of cousins with whom we were close (and who, after years of neglect, I have joyfully rediscovered.) My father estranged himself from his two sisters at an early age, and was a reluctant player in the relationship game with his own parents. I desperately wanted to know my cousins and have family reunions to attend, and could not understand why my parents expressed such antipathy about such events.
So I have my sister, who I love to the moon and back, but we live far away from each other and with five years between us, we have decades-old ingrained habits of not paying a whole lot of attention to each other. We both agree that we wish it was different, but there it is.
Thanks to my step-mother, I also have a fairly large step family who would happily have us join their ranks more regularly, but it always felt a little foreign to me to have so many relatives and so many obligations. Since I was already an adult when they came into my life, and despite how lovely they are, I never really embraced them as mine.
My husband, on the other hand, has family members on every corner of the planet, and it is incredibly important to him to at least get to know each and every one of them, if not carry on a life-long relationship with them. So my children have grown up with at least one parent who makes it his priority to establish and nurture familial ties. This is one of the many reasons I married him.
Two years ago, for my oldest son's bar mitzvah, we took our three children to Israel for a month both to introduce our children to the country and to visit my husband's family. Being Orthodox, each of his aunts and uncles has large families, and my children had cousins everywhere they turned. Every city we visited, we had to stop and spend time with the family. It was in Cousin Bonnie's apartment that we stayed when we went up north to Haifa. Bonnie wasn't even there, but her relationship as a family member clearly made an impression on my son.
No question, it is sometimes a burden to manage all these familial ties, especially for someone for whom it doesn't come naturally. But I am so grateful for the fact that this far-flung, extended family loves and accepts my children into this great tribe. I have learned the importance of showing up for family events, and for going out of one's way to see a family member when you're in their hometown or they're in yours. And I know that they will always be here for my children.
My kids are inheriting an appreciation for the roots that tie us, sometimes bind us, but always love us, in a way I never had. I believe that this is one of the greatest gifts I can give them as their parent. My wish for them is that they learn how to fly freely, but they always know that this beautifully woven safety net of family is there to catch them, wherever in the world they may land.
"Matzah for Passover" by PinkMoose via Flickr
"Matzah for Passover" by PinkMoose via Flickr