Alef Betty: Modern Hebrew Arts

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Sarah’s Family: Memories on the Water

Today's story comes from Sarah Howell. Do you have a story you want to share? I want to hear it.

My story begins at the beach. My great grandfather came to the United States to escape the Russian conscription laws and settled in the South as part of a vibrant and active Jewish community. My grandmother grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina and spent her summers in a house on the beach with her mother, sister and brother that her family shared with her cousins. After she married my grandfather they moved farther inland to Fayetteville, North Carolina but continued to bring their three daughters to the beach during the summers.

My grandmother and her daughters in the 50s

Early in my parents’ marriage (my mother is the middle of the three daughters) my mother and father began renting a house at the shore for a week every summer. At first they came with friends and later with my younger aunt and her would-be husband. The tradition continues every year and the small rental cottage that held everyone in the seventies has transformed into three multi-bedroom houses all in a row holding a riotous collection of family and friends. We fill the rooms with children and grandchildren, cousins of the first, second or removed-by-marriage variety, girlfriends or boyfriends, and even a pet or two.

Mother, daughters and the first grandchildren in the 70s

It is a week filled with laughter, love and the occasional tear. It’s where I most appreciate the strength of my family and most feel the influence of our past generations. It is where I beg my grandmother to repeat her childhood stories again and again so that I may cement them in my memory. Her father was part of the generation of early Jewish merchants selling goods door to door, and that business set the foundation for my family's good fortune. And though I may learn more about Jewish traditions and ceremonies at other times during the year, that week at the beach surrounded by all the women in my family in the place where we all began, is where I learn from them all about what it means to be a Jew.

My grandmother and grandfather in the 90s

Though my family has traveled the world and some of us have settled far away, we always return to the North Carolina coast, just miles from where our grandmothers grew up, to spend our summers and celebrate holidays. The stories we tell and the images we cherish are almost always staged at the coast – almost every photo of us that exists shows us in our bathing suits framed by the sun and sand. It is the bond that connects and centers us. It is the place where I feel at home.

The cousins in 2009

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