Overlapping tablecloths hid a configuration that zigzagged the perimeter of the downstairs. From dining room to living room to…on some Seders, the Beechwood Road, Cleveland Heights foyer—it was Passover at Grandma Becky’s.

Nowadays it would take an act of Congress to get it done: jamming no less than two dozen descendants of Great Grandfather Sam Sharp under one roof for yet another interminable Seder. All present and accounted for— with or without sibling rivalries, with or without the nuances that pester most families …all of them, compelled to the Selective Service of our great- grandfather….

We’d arrived first: Albert and Elaine, with the kids. Universally known as “The boys” we were pre-Bar Mitzvah and dutifully flanked our father on the green couch, robotically rising to shake hands with each arrival, (as all the while the bald man beamed).

At some point, though, we’d be told to move—make room for the adults—no, for one adult specifically: Grandpa Sam. Our great-grandfather was, when he died in the early ‘60’s, the biggest man I’d ever seen. (5’6” square). To this day, he still holds the title. Oh, and I don’t mean tall; I mean fat. How heavy was he? Let’s just say that each winter, when he vacationed on Collins Avenue, Miami, high tide was set by his walks in the ocean. The man had his own zipcode. He wanted the couch—he got the couch! This was his domain and the progeny that would infiltrate were all his.

And soon the parade would begin:

Grandma Cele and Grandpa Irv, (neither of whom read Hebrew). And Aunt Ruth with Uncle Irv. He, of course, would die young, but it was still many years before we learned she’d killed him (with aggravation). (“Why did Uncle Irv have a stroke Dad?….”Because he wanted to, Bruce.”)

Soon it would be Uncle Phil and Aunt Lil. Always late—big entrance— They said he looked like 50’s actor George Raft; in later years that became Howard Cosell. We never did confirm, though, if he died his hair.

And my favorite, Uncle Benny (with Aunt Charlotte). As a kid we didn’t know the caste system—didn’t know she’d only “married in” to the Sharp family—that she was only a sister-in law to some. We thought her to be a real aunt—imagine!

And the hits just kept on coming.

Uncle Bob, Aunt Etty and the Hoffmans. Cousins Barby and Sheila, Jackie and Pinky, and of course Karen Woldman and “the twins.” (Not once in my life was I ever able to tell Murray from Joel. Oddly, Hal once noted that you never saw them in the same room at the same time. Perhaps, he suggested, there was really only one Woldman boy).

I appreciate now what barely kept me awake back then. I recognize now how special it was: that everyone prioritized our heritage and respected elders enough to pack in like sardines and be together. Even though there were business disputes, even though there were family feuds…even though….

Little was I privy to the back/stories. That Uncle Benny and Uncle Phil co-owned a bar, but fought over money and weren’t speaking. That my Dad owed Uncle Bob some real money. That my mother was jealous of Bob because Grandma Cele liked him more and that Jackie never smiled and Pinky always smiled and Karen wanted a sister and everyone liked Irv Ungar even though he too “married in.” Who knew? Who cared?
On sundown, Erev Pesach, nothing mattered but family and faith. Those that dovened daily, those that spoke rarely—-they all knew their place.


This Monday night, in a world more mobile than the one I grew up in, we will recite “Next year in Jerusalem.” It is tradition, and I’ll say it. Truth be known, though, I’m not that greedy. Gladly would I settle for “Next year—under one roof—together.”

One Response to “ALL IN THE FAMILY”

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