The past week, really just the past few days, was a simcha-filled and emotional week for my extended family. I was able to celebrate and join in-person, via YouTube Live, and via WhatsApp texts and pics, a number of big “milestone” smachot for us.
On Sunday, our family celebrated my Washington Heights-based nephew and niece becoming parents of a baby boy. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are now newly minted grandparents. Although in pre-COVID times, my wife and I might have considered visiting the new family in the hospital, in this moment in time we had to settle for pics via Whatsapp of the newborn and the exhausted new mother and father.
I have been a great-uncle for a few years now as a number of my nonlocal, married nieces and nephews have children; but becoming a great uncle to the first of my Teaneck/Bergenfield nephews affected me in a much different way. This is a nephew I have watched grow up at almost every stage in his life. To see him and his wife become parents for the first time left me a bit weak-kneed and emotional. Didn’t we just celebrate his bar mitzvah? Didn’t he just get married? Now he’s making a bris? It’s hard to believe, but truly wonderful.
Later on the same day, I watched—via YouTube Live—the wedding of my Toronto-based first cousin’s oldest son. My uncle, the grandfather of the chatan, couldn’t attend due to his doctor’s advice related to COVID. It’s hard to believe that my uncle could not attend his first grandchild’s wedding. My aunt, who was able to go, had to sit far from everyone throughout the celebrations. I was happy for my cousins, but at the same time, as I watched everyone remaining quite far apart and wearing masks, I couldn’t help but feel sad for my aunt and uncle in Toronto. There, relatively few people have received the vaccine yet and the COVID restrictions are still in full force. It was definitely bittersweet.
Finally, this past Tuesday night, my sister and brother-in-law married off their oldest daughter (my oldest niece on that side of the family) in a very special wedding. This time, my family and I were able to be there. My niece is the first of my parents’ grandchildren to get married, so it was quite emotional for our family to watch the chatan and kallah under the chuppah and to see my parents walk with dignity and emotion down the aisle for the first wedding of a grandchild. Moreso, after a year of COVID and the many concerns we all had about my parents even being able to attend, it was a real zechut to be there and celebrate together with them. I couldn’t help but shed a few tears of joy.
As I was writing this piece on deadline day, my father called and reminded me of the kabbalistic idea from the Zohar that the neshamot of those in the family who have passed away are present for the smachot of their family members; I certainly would like to believe that all of the many grandparents who are no longer with us were able to be there in some fashion.
My father also shared with me a few other Torah ideas that I may have to save for my speech at the sheva brachot coming up, so I am not sure it would be wise to print them in the paper this week. Oh well!
All kidding aside, with the smachot coming one after another, I barely had time to reflect until now about what all of this means for me, my wife, and our own family. Watching adult siblings and cousins marry off their children and have grandchildren definitely makes us realize that we are getting older.
I have also come to believe that some of our natural fears and concerns about aging and slowing down are tempered partially by watching and participating as fully as possible in our children’s growth and goals as they reach their next phases of life. We want and almost “need” to be present at these big moments in our lives and the lives of our children and extended family. That’s why it was so painful to see that my uncle could not be there at his own grandson’s wedding. Whether one is a grandparent or any fairly close relative, we all want to be present for everything big and important that life has in store—from the moments of joy and celebration to the moments of pain and sadness that are an inevitable part of life’s many ups and downs.
It is my hope and bracha that for all those who are celebrating this week, the smachot outweigh and counterbalance the many nisyonot we all face in this world.
Last but not least, here are all of the family mazel tovs:
Mazel tov to my sister and brother-in-law Shira and Rabbi Adam Katz upon the marriage of their daughter Leah to Yehuda Spira!
Mazel tov to my nephew and niece Tzvi and Esther Hagler upon the birth of a baby boy! Mazel tov as well to my sister-in-law and brother-in-law Chavie and Rabbi Chaim Hagler upon becoming grandparents. Mazel tov to Esther’s parents, Rabbi Dovid and Miriam Hirsch, upon becoming grandparents for the first time as well.
Mazel tov to my first cousins Hennie and Rabbi Glenn Black of Toronto, upon the marriage of their son Yirmi to Tamara Jacobs!
By Moshe Kinderlehrer/
Co-Publisher, The Jewish Link