Ever since making aliya decades ago, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve been visited by collateral relatives. So it was with great excitement that I learned that cousin Adele her daughter Jan and Jan’s two young daughters would be in the Holy Land and that they wanted meet for dinner. Immediately, I extended an invitation and Adele accepted for them all.
Right away, I marked the date on my calendar and began counting down. What a fun it would be to see Adele. Thirty years my senior, Adele was a member of my family’s rapidly dying older generation and she was a great talker, funny and full of life and chock full of stories from the old days, precious recollections, I longed—living apart from any relations, I longed for her to share. As to Jan, I didn’t know her very well., but given my warm feelings to her Mom, I saw her as a potential friend.
As much as I was excited, I my stomach was in a knot. I was aware that both Norma and Jan were intermarried and their spouses would be coming along
Could I host them? What we would do about wine, washing , benching and yarmulke wearing?
When a prominent kiruv rabbi assured me that that having the entire gang, was a mitzvah—especially since Jan’s kids who were halachic Jews, my stomach unknotted. And when the rabbi added that the non Jews could wash and bench a broad smile settled on my face.
This was going to be a wonderful evening I told myself. I would be a modern day Sara Imenu bringing the strangers into the tent and winning them over with my Glatt Kosher Martha Stewart hospitality.
When Adele told me that she was salt free and Jan a vegetarian, I scoured cookbooks and cooking blogs to find the best recipes and I even bought new table linens to make everything look pretty.
I had high hopes for this evening, sky high. As I saw it, Adele who had initiated the trip and was picking up the tab was ripe for Teshuva.. Now nearly eighty, she was reeling from a devastating personal tragedy—the kind of event leads to a spiritual search. Adele loved chulent and kishka and used expressions like nishtugedach in her everyday conversation. Tom her third husband was a half Jew, from the wrong side but he shared Adele’s Judeophilia.
As to Jan, though I harbored less hope Her husband was a 100 per cent goy–Polish, but her kids were full fledged seedlings of Avraham Avinu. Who knew how high they could climb, especially after dinner at my house?
But as the date grew near, my stomach knotted again. The spiritual futures of six souls and so much could go wrong. The meal could flop or it could simply not hit the spot for people accustomed to Cordon Bleu.Adele or Jan or one of the grandkids could appeared dressed in something outrageous. Was I to preempt that potential disaster with a cautionary phone call or would that strategy be off putting?
Even if the food worked and everyone’s clothing was okay, the conversation could hit a snag.. One of my kids could say something rude—or one of theirs or one of the adults could say something outrageous.
But before I could devise a coping strategy , Adele left a long message on my voice mail. She was cancelling, pulling. The family was just too busy; their guide was wearing them down. She was so sorry and she hoped that we’d meet the next time I was in Coral Gables, Florida—which would most likely be never.
Maybe Adele sensed my overly high expections and attendant anxiety or maybe she or Jan or the kids or the husbands were freaked by the prospect an evening in a hareidi home or maybe Adele was telling the truth, that they were simply too pooped out to visit their only blood relations in the entire middle east.
I will never know that true reason why the dinner didn’t happen.
What I do know that this is all for the best. Rejection is Hashem’s form of protection. This family reunion was not meant to be. Our paths were not meant to cross at this time. Perhaps because neither I nor my family were up for this challenge or perhaps because of problems on the other side.
But that doesn’t eliminate the sadness. I’m sad, full of regrets, mourning the evening’s unfulfilled promise, just as the Shehina mourns for the millions of estranged Jews who never visit the relatives at all.