For the first time in my life I am grateful for suffering from insomnia for the past two nights. I usually do not have difficulty sleeping, but I was proud of myself that when I did I resisted tossing and turning and instead decided to look at what I thought was a large bag of old pictures that one of my daughters had stored away. She had taken it from my mother’s house in Jericho, Long Island prior to much of the contents of her home going into a dumpster.
In the bag was a good sized box which, to my surprise, contained hundreds of letters which my father and mother had written to each other when they were apart. I began to read those that I could, since many were written in German, and the more that I read the more intrigued I became. Some of the letters were 90 years old. As a slight background to this story, I need to share that my mother was born in Brooklyn and my father was born in Berlin. I never knew until two nights ago, while reading a letter that my mother had written to my father while he was in Berlin visiting his family, that my father arrived in this country on March 25, 1928, which means that he was 21 years old. His parents gave him a gift to travel and see the US. Interestingly, he was given the name of the senior Rabbi Joseph Lookstein as a contact person in NYC. All of the above facts were just shared to me by my brother.
Only by the grace of Hashem and the fact that my grandparents were well to do and my grandfather had a non Jewish business partner (interestingly, his name was Eisenberg) were they able to escape Germany and move to Haifa along with my father’s sister, her husband and their two children. What I found most confusing and upsetting about spending hours trying to understand what I was reading is that I grew up with the knowledge that my mother had nothing to do with her siblings except for one brother. She had one sister who she had been close with who had passed away. She was one of seven children. I would have been elated to have cousins and aunts and uncles as did my friends. As I read the letters I was shocked to see that she had a relationship with another brother and his wife and talked lovingly of their son Jonny. Obviously something happened in her family which estranged all of them, particularly from my mother. (I am assuming something to do with my grandmother’s estate.)
The reason that I am sharing this information is because I do not believe that this was or is the only family that has allowed it to happen to them. As a child I was affected by it more than I realized and was determined that my children would stay close with each other and support each other no matter their differences. I take pride in the fact that the first cousins in our family are happy and anxious to see each other. Even more crazy is that these first cousins, my grandchildren, are now celebrating the births and marriages of each other.
I do not think that my maternal family was alone in allowing family pettiness to get in the way of showing love and respect to each other. I know that there are families in every Jewish community that are allowing total foolishness (narishkeit) to occur so that mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles are being denied the beauty of family get-togethers, support and warmth. The tragedy of grandparents who are not allowed to see their own grandchildren accomplishes what?
I know that those who are reading this and are involved in family drama will find every reason to justify their behavior. As an adult I still wonder who my cousins are. I actually have made the effort to find some of them. Fortunately my Mordechai and I have created an empire beyond what we ever could have dreamt of, but I offer these thoughts for those who have the opportunity to take positive steps in reuniting their own families.
Nina Glick can be reached at [email protected]