By Larry Levine – 

There’ll be no house full of people for a holiday dinner once again this year. Those times and those memories are part of a very warmly recalled past.

Tonight is the first night of Rosh Hashanah, and while our family has never been particularly observant, there was a time when we would gather together to commemorate the season with a grand dinner at our house, or at my sister Elisa’s house before that. Often, because of the distances involved, the dinner wasn’t even on the actual holiday but on the closest weekend at which everyone could make it. We never made much of a fuss about the other New Year either, the one on Jan. 1.

I truly and deeply miss those times – not just the gathering of those important to our lives, but also the cooking I would do to feed what could be as many as 18 or 20 people at one long table, or rather several tables laid end to end. There were years when we would have to move the living room furniture aside to make room for the extension of the dinner table beyond the dining room.

The kids grew up with these memories – our two sons Lloyd and John, my mother and father, nephews David and Bryan, Bryan’s daughter Cassidy and son Justin and wife Lisa, my sisters Myrna and Elisa, Elisa’s husband Michael, Michael’s sister and brother-in-law and nephew and parents, our friend Jill and her daughter Rebecca, cousin Lloyd, and assorted others who were part of an extended family. The house was filled with the happy sounds of children laughing. We would toss them around, turn them upside down, be tackled and piled on by them. And they would laugh and demand “me next.” That’s what it really was all about – the children. The adults would share news of their lives. But we did it to give the children a sense of family and tradition and belonging.

Then the numbers began to dwindle; the dining table became smaller until several years ago the dinners stopped altogether – not just at Rosh Hashanah, but also at Thanksgiving, the other great gathering time at our home. 

First it was age and ill health that began to erode our numbers. The kids grew up and went away to college, but continued to come home for those dinners. Then they married, had families of their own, and moved to distances and lives beyond the reach of our dining room table.

Oh, those of us who are left are still very close. We see Lloyd and John often and speak with them on the phone frequently. We see Bryan and his family several times a year and have breakfasts or dinners with them when we are in the San Diego area. David is still in our lives. Jennifer has dinner with Jill often and we see Rebecca a couple of times a year. The rest are mostly gone – mom, dad, Myrna, Elisa, Michael and his parents and brother-in-law.

So, tonight instead of a house full of people there will be a house full of memories. Not maudlin or melancholy, but fond and gratifying. And there will be hopes for the future.

John and his wife Julie have two children now – our grand daughter Ella and grand son Miles. Lloyd and his wife Edie are about to have their first child. She will be our grand daughter Alise. The thoughts this holiday season will center at least as much on them as on the memories of days gone by. For there are still dinners to be had and family to be gathered. First on the docket is Thanksgiving, when John, Julie, Ella, Miles, Lloyd, Edie and Alise will gather with Jennifer and me for dinner. It will be Alise’s first Thanksgiving and first family dinner. She won’t remember this one, of course, but we’ll do it again and make memories for her and Ella and Miles, hopefully as warm as the ones we have.  

The mainstay of the Rosh Hashanah dinners I used to prepare for the family was baked brisket. What else? You will find my recipe for baked brisket by going to the Recipes section of this online cuisine magazine.

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