Remembering our family’s own Passover adventure
Etched in my memory is one particular road trip, one of many, we took with our children when they were young. It was the late ’90s, our children ranged in ages from four to 11, and the journey coincided with the children’s spring vacation from school and Passover. When I revealed my bright idea to my husband, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “You won’t go.”
Eric wasn’t incredulous because I wanted to travel, nor that I wanted to take a trip toting four children and all our assorted baggage. Nor was the ultimate destination—The Grand Canyon—something he scoffed at. I think his skepticism was directed more towards the timing.
“I don’t believe you’d go away for Pesach,” he said, elaborating on his first more cryptic statement, which, if you know anything bout me, made a great deal of sense. I am someone who loves tradition, and in particular, our Jewish traditions.
And we always celebrated the holidays at home with our extended family and friends. So I could see his point.
Certain aspects of the preparations are very cumbersome and demanding, but I am intent each year to emulate and duplicate the strict way in which my mother prepared for the yuntif of Pesach. The traditions I learned while helping my mother make the holiday special— not only gathering and eliminating the hametz from our lives, our house and our cars, but as I am turning my kitchen over, polishing silver, and preparing the Seder meals, I think about the wonderful holidays spent with loved ones who sadly are no longer with us, even as I look forward and with greater excitement to celebrating with the loved ones we are still so fortunate to have who will soon gather to tell Our Story about the departure from Egypt. While making matzo balls or kugel, I hum Dayenu, or Had Gadya.
How could we go to the Grand Canyon on Passover?, my husband wants to know. And to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really have a clue. Just an idea. And that’s where it all starts.
I’m intent on keeping to my Passover traditions to insure my holiday comfort level, so where exactly does the Grand Canyon fit in?
I did have several things going for me, and one of them was a best friend living in Las Vegas who was willing to help me. My idea blossomed into a full-fledged plan that required a lot of strategic thinking and calculations. This was pre- Google, and pre-GPS, of course, in the days when AAA Trip Ticks were as good as it got. We purchased inexpensive airfares to Vegas and rented a Winnebago. We had never driven an RV, never contemplated doing so, never even sat in a Winnebago. But if you’re taking a Passover road trip to the Grand Canyon, is there any other way to go?
Advance significant considerations included acquiring everything we would need to celebrate the intermediate days of the holiday on the road. How do you live in an RV during Pesach? Fortunately, I found almost everything at the new Cherry Hill Kosher Experience: dried fruit and fruit roll ups, chips and potato stix, fluff, nuts, juice boxes, beef jerky, and other assorted lightweight but delicious, non-perishable items that would make great snacks while hiking the trails. I remember stocking up on whatever dried kosher for Passover items—cereals, matzah, jelly, pancake, muffin, and kugel mixes—I could.
I gave a lot of consideration to the food, because that is a Passover thing I think we all do, and it seemed like I had to get it right. And I had to figure it out and get it right well in advance because I couldn’t rely on finding what we wanted or needed once I arrived in Las Vegas. My friend reassured me I’d be able to buy kosher chickens in Las Vegas along with fresh produce, but I certainly didn’t want to expect more than that and wind up disappointed. And then there was the consideration of how to cook the food and that meant buying some inexpensive pots and pans, dishes, utensils, bowls, sponges, soap, shelf paper, and well, you get the point, I’m sure.
At some point, I said, “I’ve planned and shopped and amassed quite enough for this journey to the Grand Canyon,” in order to tape shut the boxes and ship them to Las Vegas to the home of my best friend. And it’s a good thing that big chore was completed because I then turned my full attention to doing the necessary pre-Pesach cleaning, shopping, kashering, cooking, and Seder preparations for both of our Seders at home with family before beginning our journey.
The Seders were memorable, in fact, our daughter Ilana wrote, directed, and starred, along with her siblings and cousins, in two delightful new Passover plays. The first night, “The Brady Bunch leaves Egypt,” with one of my nephews, wearing a wig, playing Alice pre-bar mitzvah, when his natural voice was still falsetto soprano. Ilana chose for the second Seder’s dramatic interlude a reenactment of “Moses in the basket,” but pronounced “Mobus in the basket” by my youngest nephew, aged 3, at that time as his cousins shlepped him along the floor in a laundry basket.
We took an early morning plane on the first day of Chol Ha Moed Pesach. Apple slices, matzah and cream cheese, and chocolate covered raisins were tucked in our carry-ons to tide us over. When our plane landed in Vegas, we picked up our rental car, and drove to my best friend’s house in the suburbs. We were so excited to see one another, we laughed and cried and jumped up and down like little children. And when the RV was delivered, we were so excited, we acted even more like children, running in the front door and out the side door, jumping on the beds, flushing the toilet, investigating and discovering the many compact and functional features. And then we set to work.
We removed the toaster oven, can opener, all the dishes, utensils, pots and pans and dishes and put them in Toby’s garage. We scoured and kashered the oven, stove, and refrigerator, lined the shelves with paper, and shlepped those boxes I’d shipped out west out of Toby’s garage and into the Winnebago. We restocked the RV, now retrofitted for Pesach, cabinets brimming with kosher for Passover foods, fresh chicken, eggs, milk, fruits, and vegetables in the fridge just waiting to be enjoyed.
Soon we were off and driving, with our trip tick in hand and my husband behind the wheel of that mammoth vehicle. First stop, Hoover Dam, and then we’re en route to the Grand Canyon. In addition to all the advance planning, we’d remembered to reserve a place to park at night.
Lo and behold, as we were arriving at the Canyon, so was a snowstorm. Pulling into the campground, the kind ranger informed us we would need a heated spot, and arranged that for us.
Boy, had I underestimated how cold it could be during spring at the Grand Canyon.
We felt pulled, like magnets, to observe the impending sunset, and so, despite the cold, the bitter wind, and the rapidly falling snow, we bundled up and stood by the edge of the canyon in awe, contemplating the vastness and the sheer beauty of God’s creation. As the sun began to set, the snow created a dramatic backdrop, like drapery around some cosmic panoramic stage on which the sun dropped off the edge of the mountain and disappeared into the abyss.
Cold, wet, tired, and hungry, we trudged back to our RV. Finally, my domestic skills in our newly appointed mobile motel kitchen resulted in potato latkes and salmon croquettes. Ilana asked if we could go back and watch the sun rise over the canyon in the morning, a reasonable request despite the weather, considering the opportunity.
In the predawn darkness of the next morning, wearing all the clothes we had bought, we trekked through deep snow to behold the magnificent sunrise. I wondered what the explorers who first came upon this incredible sight must have thought and felt, and how indescribable some things really are. I felt such gratitude we had made this trip; we surmounted whatever perceived obstacles and limitations regarding Passover food, comfort levels, and weather-related issues, to enable us to witness this miracle of God’s genius (or infinite power?). As we returned to our RV to dry off and warm up, I whipped up scrambled eggs and Passover pancakes. I baked a chicken and potato kugel for dinner, a familiar smell that says we’re home. I distributed the paper, pens, and crayons I packed so we, brave explorers and humble witnesses, could sketch and journal about what we had seen and felt. How lucky we were to celebrate our Exodus from Egypt in the midst of such splendor.
We spent the next few days journeying through Arizona, viewing the Grand Canyon from several wonderful vantage points, touring Sedona, hiking Bryce Canyon. Each night, I wondered, as was taking our trash from the RV to the dumpster, what the rangers and guards who empty this dumpster would think, or even what Huckleberry Hound and Boo Boo would think. It amused me to think we might be the first Passover explorers to behold such splendor in our accustomed kosher way. Could we have been the first to leave remnants of our kosher for Passover foodstuff behind? Now that I think about it, I highly doubt it. Yet, I wonder if, when the Park Ranger discovered all those empty cereal, pancake, matzah and latke boxes, would he say to his wife that night, “Mary, I saw the strangest thing today when I was emptying the trash. Did you ever hear of matzah?”