Leon’s No Newsletter 244
Thu 23rd Nov 2017
Jerusalem, where I live, is not only far, geographically, from S.Africa, where I used to live, it’s also far historically; from the times when my two brothers and I lived in a close family of cousins, Uncles and Aunts.
A long time ago, when we were still fresh and rosy cheeked, my cousins were like extended limbs of my body. They gave me life. They animated me, because my parents the brother and sister of their parents, my uncles and aunts, showed me off as their parents showed them off.
There were seven brothers and sisters.I had the feeling that they took great pride in each other's success. One could easily notice this, although I wasn’t much aware of it, but on thinking about them now, 70 years later, I think they must have been competing with each other. It was fierce, but under the surface, on many levels. I think it revolved mostly around the quality, of the offspring (each brother or sister only had two or three children). Quality was measured, in my opinion by, approximately 4 abilities, in order of importance: 1. Ability in Arithmetic, or mathematics. 2 Ability to talk and write English, eloquently..3. Talent for drawing, or some other artistic talent.
I call it a system, but I don’t think that they were aware of following any system for comparing each other’s success. I think it was the outcome of ambition, typical of many families, who had only recently settled in the country, which offered many opportunities for success.
It wasn’t a bad system, but, in my opinion, it was easily overridden by physical strength (although, nobody would, officially admit this). Of course this didn’t apply to the female cousins, like Ruth and her sister Bernice or cousin Milly. I, for example, could have been declared best at everything, had I been physically strong, but, sad to say, I was deficient in that quality also. I conclude that God doesn’t hand out His gifts fairly.
In my opinion, nobody could beat Solomon; even if he hadn’t been first in eloquence, he could easily have asserted his place by his physical strength.
I think that my parents must have had a close relationship with their brothers and sisters. At least, that’s the way it looked, judging by the enthusiastic way they used to travel far and wide to be together on weekends and the enormous efforts that were made in producing the most and the tastiest food; Ma would make chopped herring, chopped liver and carefully decorate the plates with the whites and the yellows of eggs. My auitny Masha made the best perogies, Aunty Sarah, the best chicken soup and Aunty Ginge the best desserts. Hours upon hours were spent on the telephone, exchanging recipes. Lunch on a Sunday would go on until about 3 in the afternoon, then followed deep conversations by the adults and horse play by the kids, or monopoly.
They enjoyed being together. In the 1940’s and 50’s distances were traversed slowly, compared to these days, yet our folks covered them willingly each Sunday.
While they were together with their brothers and sisters, we kids, the cousins were thrown together on a weekly basis, until it got to be so much fun that we always looked forward to these visits, even if it meant fighting for a window seat in the car.
Today, however, I live so far apart from my brothers that it’s impossible to visit them frequently and mostly I don’t take my kids. The result is that the physical contact is lacking, For sure the new virtual reality systems of social network have helped a lot in keeping contact, but it just makes you realize, more than ever, how important physical contact between family members is.
In fact, I think that the urge for family members to be close to one another is one of the forces which drives the social network.
Thanks to the internet I know a lot about my brothers and their children and my cousins and their children. I have regular exchanges of ideas and opinions with them and sometimes we agree and other times not so much, but I enjoy meeting them physically and thank God this happens from time to time, usually on family celebrations, like the bar mitzvah which my cousin Ruth’s grandson celebrated in Moshav Bnei Tzion, last week.
Our cousin Ruth came to live in Netanya, from S. Africa, about 6 years ago. This is really what started, or rather re-started, the whole family gathering idea. Family members, like Solomon and his friend Pieter came to celebrate Ruth’s grandson, Ori’s bar mitzvah.
Mostly synagogues are built in such a way that they close out freshness, as if fearing change that might blow into the staid Jewish traditions, but here at Bnei Zion, the synagogue looks out onto a garden, fresh air blows in and welcome variations are introduced into tradition. Ori read the weekly Torah portion, Vayera=and He (God) appeared, beautifully on Shabbat afternoon, then everyone went to the hall next door for a smashing meal. It was perfect timing so that Shabbat laws weren’t infringed.
It was a regular gathering of cousins, grand cousins and grand nieces and nephews. It was amazing to think that all these people had sprouted from that close knit family in S.Africa of the 40’s and 50’s. We have spread in numbers, in geographic space and most of all, in my opinion in depth of appreciation of the gift of togetherness that we inherited from our parents.
Cousin Solomon made it his business to meet my children and my grandchildren. This is something that typically his mother, my Aunty Anne would have done or so would any of my mother’s brothers or sisters. He was doing what he’d seen his mother do. Aunty Anne always had an encouraging smile that invited us to tell all our secret achievements and concerns. Aunty Mona, the only sister of my mother who wasn’t married, came regularly to visit us in Krugersdorp, bringing with her a whole carload of story books, coloring books, crayons and what not. She had comments to make on our development, which always gave me lots of encouragement..
Solomon brought a few volumes of Aunty Mona’s diary. The few pages of one of the volumes, that I read, told about her day to day activities that circulated around her nieces and nephews. At one point she even considers canceling a trip to Australia because she sees it as pointless, because she enjoys her nephews in S. Africa. In the 1980’s, when I was already living in Israel, far from the family, Aunty Mona was still busy with the kids; she writes about the grand nieces and nephews, living nearby in Springs and how they came to fetch her and invited her for lunch. It made me very happy to read about how they appreciated Aunty Mona. It was a reward for the attention she showed the cousins, when we were young.
I loved chatting with my cousin, Solomon and his friend Pieter, over a bowl of lentil soup, in a restaurant, in Jerusalem, across the road from their boutique hotel, Bezalel. Until now I hadn’t thought much about how close our mothers, Hetty and Anne, were attached to each other and to their sisters, Lily, Sarah and Mona and their brothers, Ruby and Folly.
Now I understand why every Sunday, Ma and Pa and us three kids, would make the arduous journey, from Krugersdorp to Springs, to visit Aunty Ginge and Uncle Ruby and Aunty Edie and Uncle Folly and Pa’s brother Uncle Yudel and Aunty Masha, with stops at Benoni, to visit Pa’s cousin Uncle Joe and Aunty Gita and Brakpan to visit Pa’s brother Sholem and Aunty Fanny and Germiston, to visit Ma’s sister Aunty Sarah and Uncle Louis. It was like a weekly great trek.
The uncles and aunts sometimes made the journey in the other direction, coming from Springs, Germiston, Brakpan and Benoni to Krugersdorp to visit Ma and Pa and Aunty Lily and Uncle Ben.
Distance couldn’t keep the close family apart; Aunty Anne and Uncle Israel, who lived in faraway Wolmerandstadt, visited on Passover and brought our cousins, Solomon, Ezra and David to spend holidays with us in Krugersdorp.
Once we were 16 cousins, including my brothers and myself, now we are 13. It always seemed to me that I had lots of cousins, Solomon, Ezra and David, children of my mother’s sister Aunty Anne and her husband Israel, Ernest, Millie and Brenda, children of my mother’s sister, Aunty Sarah and her husband uncle Louis, Bernice, Ruth and Michael, children of my mother’s brother Rubie and his wife Aunty Ginge, Ilona and Robin, children of my mother’s brother Uncle Folly and Aunty Edie, Errol and Sharon, children of my mother’s sister Auinty Lily and her husband Ben.
As a child I always thought of the great danger of death taking away one of my beloved family. I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly go on living without even one of them. Of course the dearest to me of all, my father was the first to be taken away, the unimaginable had happened. After that everything seemed to fall to pieces and one of the youngest and brightest of my cousins, Brenda, was next to go. She and I had spent one of the last years our high school days, together in Muizenberg, driving through the beautiful Cape mountains with a carload of kids, before we’d go our separate ways, she to study microbiology and I to study Hebrew teaching, then she got married and I got married. I saw her only once more, with her husband, Stanley, in Toronto, then she passed away. Then my mother died and one after another the uncles and aunts left us. Another cousin, always full of fun, Ezra, then left us and recently my cousin Millie was taken away from us.
Now I trust the Lord will leave the rest of us together for a good long time to come.