This is a special story for me as Passover is a wonderful day: A people leaving bondage into the light of Freedom.
Two of my three beautiful children now live in Israel. My youngest is in San Francisco. The boys' mother passed away nine (very long years) ago. On Passover, as on many days...who am I kidding...everyday, I think of her and talk to her about things...the children, life, work, the beauty she graced my life with...especially on Passover...the Seders and the glow she imparted to them. Thank you, once again, beloved Carmela: Eshet Hayal (Woman of Valor).
Before we even reached the door of the tiny Miami bungalow, we could smell the aroma of the fresh dill bubbling in the chickenl soup. It made a six-year-old's heart leap with joy. My favorite night of the year had finally come: Passover at Bubbe's.
My mom, dad, brother Alvin and I were the last to arrive. Crowded around the Seder table were Uncle Sammy, Aunt Mona and their four boys; Minnie, Bob and their two daughters; and Aunt Blanche, who was getting a head start with her first glass of Manischewitz.
The Seder progressed as it always did, with Dad leading the service, Blanche sipping wine out of turn and Bubbe running in from the kitchen with more parsley and salt water.
When the time came for dad to go wash his hands, Alvin jumped up and snatched the Afikoman from the table. I followed my eleven-year-old brother out of the room as the Seder continued.
When Alvin was convinced no one was watching, he sneaked into Bubbe's cluttered back room. Somewhere against the far wall, Alvin found the old World Book encyclopedia and ceremoniously hid the Afikoman in the "A" volume between Afghanistan and Alaska.
We rejoined the group in time for the Four Questions and eventually the Passover feast. As usual, I stuffed myself with matzahh Charoset and eggs to the point that I couldn't even touch Bubbe's famous roasted chicken.
Finally it was time for the grace after meals.
"Where has Alvin hidden the Afikoman this year?" Dad and Uncle Sammy made a half-hearted attempt to find the missing half of matzah, checking behind the TV and under the pillows that were placed on each chair for our reclining pleasure.
"Okay, you got us, Alvin," said Uncle Sammy. "How much do you want?"
"Actually, you don't have to give me anything," stated Alvin, cryptically.
"Shrewd boy, he's holding out for more cash," said Aunt Blanche.
"Oh yeah?" asked Uncle Sammy. "We'll beat him at his own game. Kids, find the matzah."
The Finkel cousins began tearing around the house like escaped circus chimps. After fifteen frenzied minutes, they returned to the living room. Kevin turned in the report. "Sorry, Dad. For a small house, there's a lot of places to hide a matzah."
Uncle Sammy threw up his hands. "Okay, enough. You'll get ten dollars right after Passover. That's twice what we gave you last year."
"No thanks. If you want to finish the Seder, you have to find the Afikoman."
"I'm way too old to play games."
"No games. We all know that the Seder cannot end until we all partake of the Afikoman. If you can't find it, then I guess the Seder won't come to an end."
"Well, technically he's right," said my dad. "Why he's doing this, I have no idea."
Sammy shrugged. "From now on, his Afikoman hiding privileges are officially revoked. You win, Alvie. After Passover, you'll get twenty dollars."
The cousins gasped.
Kevin was the most upset. "That's a whole year of my allowance."
This was becoming serious business. After all, it was 1975.
Alvin raised his hand to quiet his cousins.
"Look, everyone. I'll explain my intentions."
Even Bubbe popped her head in from the kitchen to hear this.
Alvin cleared his throat. "I've been doing a lot of thinking. This fall, Kevin goes off to college. Mitchell and Warren will be right behind him. Sarah will probably marry that doctor she's dating."
Her mother Mamie smiled at the prospect.
"Pretty soon we'll all go our separate ways," continued Alvin. "This gathering -- this tradition -- will be just a memory. So I was thinking: What if the Afikoman wasn't found? It would be the Endless Seder. Bubbe would keep cooking her delicious meals. We could stay here forever. One big happy family."
"I'm going to kill him," said Sammy.
Aunt Blanche at least seemed open to the idea. "Well, if we could wander in the desert for forty years . . . "
Sammy turned to my dad for help. "Endless Seder? Talk some sense into the boy, Nathan."
"He's kidding. An eternal Seder. That's a good one, Alvie."
"I'm not kidding, Dad."
Sammy's voice got low and serious. "It's getting late. I ate too much. We have to go. Twenty-five bucks. That's my final offer."
"Twenty-five bucks?!" Cousin Kevin's face was turning red.
This just made Alvin more adamant. "Uncle Sammy, how can you put a price on something priceless? This simcha? These smiling faces?"
By this point, only Blanche was smiling. She had passed out in her Seder plate.
"I appreciate what you're trying to do," said Sammy. "Your heart is in the right place. But enough is enough."
With a grand gesture, he picked up a matzah from underneath the matzah cover.
"See this? This matzah was the one next to the Afikoman. Perhaps Elijah sneaked in during the Seder and transmuted the Afikoman's Seder-ending powers into the matzah I am now holding. I hereby deem this matzah 'Afikoman by association.'"
He began breaking up the matzah and distributing it to his sons.
Alvin was horrified. "Afikoman by association? Please, Uncle Sammy."
"Okay, prove to me that this matzah didn't come from the same larger matzah that the Afikoman came from? Or maybe this is the original Afikoman and it shifted to the bottom during shipping?"
Dad sat down next to his son.
"I don't get it, Dad," sighed Alvin. "I thought we'd all want this night to last forever."
"It was a noble idea, Alvie. But think about it: if this Seder didn't end, we would miss Shabbat. Not to mention Chanukah and your Bar Mitzvah."
"Chanukah," repeated Alvin quietly.
Dad put his hand on Alvin's shoulder. "Sometimes we wish time would stand still -- that things could always be just as they are. But without the changing of the seasons, life itself could not exist. There would be no sunrise. No dawning of a new day with its promises and mysteries."
For a dermatologist, Dad could be pretty philosophical.
"Who knows? Next year we could all be in Israel, eating dishes you've never tasted, celebrating with cousins you've never met."
Alvin thought about this for a moment, then left the room, reappearing with the missing Afikoman in his hand. He broke off a piece and handed it to Dad. Together they each took a bite.
Alvin smiled for the first time all evening.
"Next year in Jerusalem," he said to his father.
"Yes, Alvin. Next year in Jerusalem."